By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 10 March 2021
With my love of odd and esoteric mechanics, it’s no small wonder why I jump at games with a quirky pitch. Dominoes as your risk mechanic? Awesome! Cards both as numbers and suit to determine how things go? Deal me in! A no challenge/conflict game? Sweet! An entire game built on language? Stop, I can only love your idea so much!
So when I saw BYTE show up as a Kickstarter and read that it was a d8-only game, I knew it needed it for my collection.
BYTE is a generic, universal roleplaying game that utilizes a unique, d8-only mechanic. The mechanic is only the beginning: BYTE is built to allow you to build the campaign of your dreams, allowing for fantasy, science fiction, modern-day, and more with a collection of adaptable and compatible tools.
==What You Get==
BYTE weighs in at a beefy 447 page PDF. Within those pages, you get the aforementioned d8 mechanic, over 25 playable “Ancestries” (think “Races” in D&D terms), 10 “Tech Levels” to cover Stone Age through space-faring sci-fi, and the specific rules to handle those including magic, super powers, AI, spaceships, and more.
There is also the “No Coin For Charon” setting, which is a modern-era zombie apocalypse setting provided in this book.
If you’ve never read my reviews before, then know this: I always love gawking at art, and BYTE is loaded with it. While the majority are licensed and not custom, the selections are great and do showcase the number of options available within this ruleset.
As someone who’s read a large number of games, I can sincerely say I have yet to see a d8 focused game. The core mechanic (Stat d8 vs Skill) is simple enough to grok, and the experience is rather novel due to the die choice.
Games like BYTE always have one thing going for them: the sheer number of choices available. While reading BYTE, I was immediately reminded about what I loved about the old TSR game Alternity: both were core mechanics with a universal goal, built to allow you to mix and match the toolkits you need.
While BYTE tries to offer settings to lock in specific themes (like magic is only within these specific settings), it is easy to combine the spacefaring sci-fi mechanics with the magic rules and the “fantasy” Ancestries like the Sidhe. As someone who loves to mix and match what I want in my settings, this is a wonderful thing.
Sadly, BYTE has a number of glaring issues.
The first one is seen rather early, and sadly permeates the entire work: while the rolling mechanic is simple, the rest of the game comes off as a convoluted mess.
For example, combat takes the worst elements of Savage Worlds and the old West End Games D6 mechanic and somehow made them worse. Reading through how to calculate wounds left me reading it multiple times to figure it out, and sharing that page with friends left them comparing unpleasant situations (root canal and allergy shots) to reading that over. The wound mechanic is, politely said, a convoluted mess that is both unclear and awkward to use in the best of circumstances.
Sadly, it continues on like this. Abilities, which replace “skills” in other games, unlock special actions when purchased without bonus points, and these gives additional perks. While the concept is not new to me, it turns a 27 item long skill list into something unweildly, as each Ability has anywhere from four to eight extra abilities to purchase. Factor in setting limitations (icons included on every skill) and Tech Level limitations (or addendums, like permitting certain Archery perks to be purchased with Marksmanship training), and this mechanic moves from elegant blade to blunt club.
And then we get into side mechanics, which the above issue permeates through every single one. Magic is the biggest culprit, requiring so many individual approaches in the form of Arcane Symbols, nearly ten pages of example mana sources, a list of spells that feel ripped and renamed from other games, and a note that magic is more subtle than pyrotechnic (which really puts a damper on certain franchises translating to this style of game with the limited offensive spells here).
Then there’s a note on the layout issues here. I won’t go on a massive tirade, so I’ll try to keep it short. We have symbols tied to different campaigns which appear throughout the book, but the key appears once and then we’re done. Couple this with only one of these campaigns actually getting more than a paragraph of text, and they become more of an annoying distraction than not.
Some of the font choices were glaringly painful, reminiscent of punchcard computers or even just “made me feel dyslexic” as one of the players in my gaming group said. Combine this with an overly complication character sheet and you have one nightmare waiting for you.
Some areas of the book, such as the subsets of Abilities, were not in any logical order; they were not in alphabetical order, in order of requirements, nothing. Thankfully other key areas are in alphabetical order, but others were just out of sorts. Combined with the lack of an index and subsets not being in the table of contents, it becomes a pain to track down information as you play.
Finally, the writing is the book is, simply put, “rough.” Unless I am mistaken, english is not the native language of the authors, and must of the writing makes that clear. The language feels stilted at times, and as a fellow translator, the best word choice isn’t here to help with the flow. When this style of writing that clearly is missing nuance due to translation spans over four hundred pages, it becomes not only a chore to read, but almost like a translation assignment in and of itself.
All said and done, BYTE was a painful read that I couldn’t bring myself to finish.
At the end of the journey, BYTE is leaving with 1.5 stale buns.
I wanted to like BYTE. The idea of a single-die dice pool mechanic that wasn’t using d10 or yet another d6 mechanic caught my attention, and knowing it was a d8 absolutely kept my attention through the Kickstarter. The epic tier of art and the number of options the game presents kept me excited through the waiting process.
But it was all dashed with overly complicated and convoluted mechanics, awkward approaches with book layout and related choices, and the, at times, painful translation. This is, by far, one of the biggest disappointments: it technically had everything needed, but the execution was severely lacking.
If you are a fan of the old Alternity system from TSR or want to see a d8-only mechanic, then BYTE might be for you. Otherwise, I can’t recommend this book as anything beyond a lesson.
BYTE is published by Abascanto Press and was successfully funded via Kickstarter. The book can be purchased via DriveThruRPG as a PDF ($25), Standard Color Hardcover ($54), Premium Color Hardcover ($75), or as a PDF+Book bundle ($64 and $84, respectively).
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.