By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 25 November 2020
“There are only so many ways to roll dice.” Every time I read, write, or edit another RPG, I always find myself saying the same phrase. But while rolling dice doesn’t change, how the action is tied to the dice is what catches my eye.
So what happens when an RPG offers a system that primarily uses one die type, but everyone rolls them differently? That very idea is what roped me into reading Slayers from Spencer Campbell.
Slayers is a lightweight RPG set in a fictional, endless, ever-changing city that has problems with monsters and similar issues. Inspired by other media such as Bloodborne, players take the role of a Slayer, out to rid the town of what monsters they can and make some coin in the process.
==What You Get==
Slayers is sold as a PDF and as a hardcover book. The hardcover is the growingly common zine/”adventure” sized, with full color, glossy pages. The game weighs in at about 60 pages, with under 1/3 introducing character creation/progression and combat, about 1/3 of setting, and the last 1/3 dedicated to GM tools (pre-made Hunts, bestiary, and rules reference).
What separates Slayers from other, similar games (like Fragged Aeternum) is the dice mechanic. Players choose one of four classes (Blade, Gunslinger, Arcanist, and Tactician), and while they all roll the same kind of dice, they all roll differently. For example, a Gunslinger “loads” their dice and shoots as many as they wish on their action, while a Tactician collects dice to use and swap out to influence other rolls as needed. It is this self-proclaimed “asymmetrical” premise that makes Slayers unique with regards to mechanics.
Like many indie RPGs, Slayers is a quick and easy read, using more conversational tones and easy to comprehend language. It’s not terribly long, and everything you need is condensed to this single, small volume.
From a mechanical perspective, Slayers is already worth the price of admission. With each class having different ways to roll dice, but all abide by the same rules (goal of 4+), we see an interesting approach to game design. Most games using classes like this would just map out the core action and show how other classes influence them (mages cast spells, fighters use melee, etc). Instead, each class has a number of unique abilities that are tied directly to how they roll dice, and activate based on the roll.
It is this asymmetrical approach that makes the game so appealing: instead of everyone being a cookie-cutter with a gimmick, every class has its own play style that allows it to not only excel in its niche, but feel unique while being played. Blades throw combo attacks at the whims of the dice, while Arcanists gamble on massive power in exchange for their souls, while a Gunslinger can simply unload everything into one shot and hope it is enough to fell the beast.
Finally, the game is an easy read and easy to grasp, the latter of which I found important. I read it over my lunch break and could have confidently guide players through creating characters and ran a Hunt from the book that evening. If nothing else, this is a solid book to consider for a convention game.
This is personal preference, but I’m not entirely sold on the art here. While it isn’t inherently bad, I felt it didn’t capture the grim and gritty feel that is pitched in the text, with the artwork being too, for lack of a better term, “bright.” This could just be my interpretation of the setting, but it created a bit of disconnect as I read through the text.
I’m also not entirely sold on the “skills” element of the game. While the d6 is the primary die of the game (as it is the “weapon” die and used most often), other dice are introduced to be rolled for “Skill Checks” (like sneaking, mending wounds, or general strength) with a goal of beating a 4. On one hand, I like finding a way of handling skills that’s not complex, but I’m not sold on the idea with the heavy focus on another die type. Combine this with the combat focus of the game, and it just feels…strange. Again, it all works mechanically, and this hangup may be due to personal preference, so take it as you will.
For those looking for a long-time game, Slayers may be a disappointment. While progression is provided, and the concept of gear shopping is thrown out the window, there’s just not enough setting and non-combat oriented action provided to really make this worthwhile. This may be my own opinion, but what makes this an excellent one-shot or convention game makes this a difficult game for long-term gaming. As always, your mileage may vary.
The only other truly glaring issue stems from the setting being a bit challenging to grasp. We are given a city that constantly changes, which is a challenge to work with, but we are given districts that are “set” in place, but not much to really help with what makes them stable (if they are stable at all!). We get some tools to help with mapping, but nothing really rung out to me to help make the provided setting really stand out beyond competitors with similar ideas, or much concrete lore to really make the world alive.
Regardless of how long your hunt lasts, Slayers will always come home with three warm buns.
With an easy to grasp game mechanic, a rather unique approach to resolution, and ready-to-run adventures, Slayers is well worth the price of admission. Whether you want a quick one-shot game or are curious what your group can come up with, Slayers has something to offer.
Sadly, Slayers suffers from a setting that’s a bit too loose and a touch complex for those who aren’t up for a fluid setting, as well as having an odd secondary mechanic that doesn’t quite feel right compared to the rest. You may find it worth more than my middling three buns, but these concerns leave me where I stand.
Slayers is created by Spencer Campbell, the mind behind Gila RPGs. You can purchase a physical book as a hardcover ($25) or softcover ($15) from the Gila RPGs webstore, or as a PDF for $10 on itch.io.
(As of this writing, Slayers is currently on sale! Hardcover copies are $17.50, and softcover copies are $10.50)
Anthony, better known as LibrariaNPC, wears many hats: librarian, gamemaster, playtester, NPC, game designer, and our Editor-In-Chief. You can support his work on Patreon, his tip jar, via Ko-Fi, or by buying his games.