The first installment of the Pop Culture Catalog-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my reviewing-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreon supporters.
Being the first in a new series, this supplement deals with something that was painfully absent from many a supplement in many a science-fiction/science-fantasy/space-opera game – flavor, particularly regarding the small details. Whether you think of Star Wars or series more in line with my tastes like Firefly, Defiance or The Expanse, you’ll notice something when going into the in-depth analysis of what works and what doesn’t – while the big world-building is important, so are the smaller tidbits. The representations of the respective cultures depicted, and their popular culture artifacts and expressions. This pdf is the first in a series that attempts to fill that hole, to make the small, often neglected components, make sense. While nominally tied to the Xa-Osoro system as the default shared setting of Rogue Genius Games and Everyman Gaming, the content herein works just as well in other science-fiction/fantasy/space opera settings. As such, this receives the “almost system neutral”-tag. It features rules for Starfinder, sure, but these are slightly less important – this book is just as viable in e.g. Stars Without Number.
Speaking of rules: on the first page, we are introduced to fandoms of pop culture representations – to belong, you have to engage with a topic for 24 hours; said time must be spent in 1-hour increments, and need not be consecutive. You can belong to 1 + Charisma modifier fandoms (minimum 1); for every 5 ranks you have in a skill associated with a fandom, you can join an additional fandom associated. The pdf provides a list – Athletes and Sports teams? Associated skills Athletics (not Athleticism) and Culture); Infosphere Sites? Computers, Culture. Clothing Brands? EDIT: The pdf has been updated and got rid of a minor glitch here. Leaving a fandom is a matter of declaring it, and rejoining only takes 12 hours. Each fandom has its unique benefit, which is known as fandom perk. Whenever you take a 10-minute rest to replenish Stamina, you can switch the active fandom perk from the ones you have, as you can only benefit from one at a given time. Alternatively, you can spend 2 Resolve Points as a full action to swap an active perk for another. Each of the popular vidgame franchises herein comes with a fandom perk, which are generally in line and approximate with theme knowledge – a reduced DC, for example. If you already have such a reduction in place for that matter at hand, you instead gain a bonus to such checks.
As soon as you start looking at the actual content, you’ll start grinning from ear to ear.
Why? Well…there is, for example a deplorable company that purchases smaller studios and milks them dry until the public tires of them. Said company also holds the rights of the biggest sport-series simulation in vidgames, Hawkvein Sports, and releases a new, slightly tweaked iteration every year. The publisher also has the rights over Simulacraft, developed by Mixim, wherein the player gets control over the fate of a small community of artificial beings. (And in the science fiction context, simulacra of scanned persons may be included in the game…) Suffice to say, this publisher is not very popular, is considered to be a blight upon the gaming sphere…
Sounds familiar? Yep, it’s obviously…DE Games. No. Not EA. What? The logo provided looks similar enough to make abundantly clear what’s meant? You don’t say… 😉
Kidding aside, the glorious thing here, is that the logos and publishers are clearly based on real world entities, but abstracted enough to prevent any possible form of litigation. “Kyko”, for example, publishes “Kingdom Clash XG”. Okami is a legendary publisher under the CEO Satoru Yamawata, and has such gems as the “Legend of Xion” (which takes place in Hivool, latest installment: Mark of the Wilds), “Nullchamon” (in which you become the best there ever was in training Null-Space chamber monsters…) of “Starsune” under their IPs – the latter being a fun tweak on the StarFox reference. And yes, there is a series about a portly construction worker – Super Malvick. There also is a Smash Brothers franchise mentioned.
You’ve got three guesses which company “Tsunami” is based on. If It’s not immediately evident: Age of Ashes (AoA) is the most commercially successful MMORPG ever; there is a dungeongrinder that starts with “D” (Demgagogue X) plagued by sneak updates, a science-fiction RTS and a team-shooter with that sports “Watch” as a syllable in its name.
Virilsoft, obviously based on Ubisoft, has franchises such as the skill-enhancing “Lumman”-platformer, “Move! Motion! Mayhem!” (totally not DDR) that can actually teach you to dance; “Murder’s Mark” is set in historical events and allows for better mook-killing due to coup-de-grace cinematics-studying…and “Skitterscreamers” hilariously lampoon a certain rabbid-based franchise with Starfinders beloved skittermanders in the main role.
Beyond the big ones, the pdf also includes a couple of more “Indy” (in the roughest sense of the word) nods, which include survival-game “Shipwreck”, obvious Portal reference “Wormhole,” and, much to my joy, nods to both the awesome Indy gem Shovel Knight (“Spade Shogun”) and to my childhood platformer of choice, which is represented here as “Dasher the Hedgepig.” While the latter has suffered seriously during the last years, particularly with the atrocious “Dasher the Hedgepig ‘26” (that made me lol…), it’s still a cult classic. As an aside: “Sonic Mania” really rocks and captures old-school Sonic exceedingly well. You’ve got three guesses which franchise “Ultimate Fantasy” references…
So yeah, the flavor here is phenomenal and made me smile time and again. What about the mechanics? Well, what about a Reflex save reroll at -2, that may be recharged by resting and spending Resolve? Effectively handling manual tools? Bonuses for ganging up on opponents? What about one of them helping with verbal duels as codified in the Advanced Skill Guide? The benefits aren’t world-shaking, but they are meaningful – and they are not boring.
Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language level and has been further refined in a recent update. No more complaints! Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard, a and we get a couple of really nice pieces drawn in Jacob Blackmon’s signature style. My favorite aesthetic component within, though? The company logos. Similar enough to make clear what entity is meant without being on the nose. The Blizzard stand-in, Tsunami, to give you an example, does not have “frozen” letters or such a font, but instead sports a rendition of the wave you’d associate with that natural disaster. They are genuinely clever. Kudos! The pdf now comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Alexander Augunas’ first Pop Culture Catalog is a great start for the series that shows a genuine passion for the subject matter. While Alex is a great designer, he also knows how to write compelling and captivating prose, settlements, races – you name it. In this book, he can flex his narrative muscles, and I for one was thoroughly entertained by this offering. While clearly a Starfinder supplement regarding its rules, I maintain that this genuinely is useful, regardless of the game system you’re playing. And if you’re even remotely interested in videogames, then this will definitely be fun for you – attempting to decrypt the plethora of references is certainly amazing, and frankly, I can’t wait to see sequels, where franchises like “Quiet Mountain”, “Memory Loss” or the like are covered. The subject of videogames certainly has a lot to offer. Furthermore, I do love how this book, design-paradigm-wise, rewards characters in-game for engaging with the flavor presented. Ultimately, having hobbies and the like adds depth to a character, and this pdf achieves just that. EDIT: Devoted to quality, Alexander has updated the pdf and ironed out the minor kinks, which increases the rating to 5 stars. And since I really loved what this has to offer, I will also add my seal of approval. A fun read, meaningful effects, and plenty of reasons to smile – what’s not to like?
You can get this cool pdf here on OBS!