N.K. Jemisin’s Hugo-winning Broken Earth Trilogy is getting the RPG treatment. Green Ronin Publishing is now crowdfunding on BackerKit for The Fifth Season Roleplaying Game.
This RPG is set in the Stillness, a world with unstable tectonics. To the people who live in the Stillness, it seems that Father Earth hates them and is actively trying to kill them. They have suffered through several apocalypses, known as Fifth Seasons, and have gathered into close communities, called comms. In a comm, everyone has a role to play. It’s only by working together that they can survive. This world also has magic, although the magic users are feared, hated, and oppressed. Orogenes have the power to control rock and ore, making them very powerful. Those who aren’t killed by their own comms are set to a place called the Fulcrum where they are taught to control their powers (and abused by their guardians).
This was an insta-back for me. The Broken Earth books are some of my very favorite books, especially The Fifth Season. I could not pass up a chance to play a character in the Stillness, even if that character might not necessarily have earth-shaking powers.
The Fifth Season RPG is currently raising funds on Backerkit. While the initial goal has been reached, Green Ronin is still funding stretch goals for the project. The campaign ends on February 23.
I recently got the chance to ask Chris Pramas, president of Green Ronin Publishing, about the game and what players (and book readers) can expect.
Editor’s note: The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
The Fifth Season is a big world with many different kinds of characters. What was the biggest challenge of making Broken Earth into an RPG?
Definitely orogeny because of its raw power. If we treated orogenes as the equivalent of wizards (people with special abilities), it wouldn’t work because of the power imbalance among the Player Characters. If one character is, say, good at hunting, but another can shift tectonic plates, that’s quite a difference. So, the core rulebook includes rules for wild orogenes. Folks who can do some things, but they don’t have any training and they live in fear of discovery. Fulcrum-trained orogenes are at a whole other level, so we will be dealing with them in a supplement called Ten Rings. That will let you play a whole campaign based in the Fulcrum.
From what I’ve read, the game seems very comm-focused. Is it possible to play as an orogene and wander the Stillness as the characters do in the book?
Sure, if you like. We chose to focus on comms in the core rulebook because preparing to survive the next Fifth Season is such a vital part of the culture of the Stillness. It also gives an immediate story structure that explains the player characters’ backgrounds and why they are working together. Really, the comm is like another character in the campaign (it’s got its own record sheet and everything) and the actions of the players will affect it for good and ill. The game is not, however, about just sitting at home. Acting in the comm’s interests will lead to travel and adventures.
What games is this RPG most like, in your opinion? What would you compare it to?
It’s hard to peg, honestly. In post-apocalyptic RPGs, there has typically been an apocalypse and now you struggle in its aftermath. Fifth Season is an ongoing series of apocalypses as Father Earth vents his rage on humanity. It’s a world where there have already been dozens of apocalypses and you always have to be ready for the next one. And that’s not a distant threat. In most campaigns, the PCs and their comm will have to survive at least one Fifth Season. There are, of course, many post-apocalyptic RPGs. Some are just wahoo settings with mutants and lasers. Others are studded with jokey bits like Fallout. The closest game I can think of is Legacy: Life Among the Ruins. It’s about surviving the apocalypse and trying to rebuild in its aftermath. Legacy does have a whole cross-generational aspect that is not built into the Fifth Season RPG.
What did you most enjoy about this project? What was your favorite part of working on the game?
I loved the novels, so it was great to bring that to the world of tabletop RPGs. I’m the company president and I lead our dev team, so I had a couple of different roles. I was the one to secure the license for us and that took some negotiating. On the creative side, my role was more directorial. While I did design the Adventure Game Engine that powers the game, I did not write anything for Fifth Season myself. Joe Carriker, Tanya DePass, and Hiromi Cota were the developers, and we recruited a great team of designers and writers to work on it: Samantha Day, Monte Lin, Eugenio Vargas, Kiara Vincent, LaShawn Wanak, and our own Steve Kenson. My favorite part was seeing it all come together at last. The covid years have been hard, and we’ve faced many challenges. We had some stops and starts since 2020 but we kept pushing on the game. When we got the text back from editing, when we started to see art come in, and when we were able to put together a complete PDF Quickstart for the crowdfunder, it felt really good.
How much did you work with N.K. Jemisin herself on this game?
Nora and I have worked together throughout the process. Ultimately, all the text, art, and layout go to her for approval, and we make changes based on her feedback. She left the game design part to us, but she was always ready to answer our questions about the world. When it came time to art direct the game, for example, we realized that we didn’t have a lot of references for what the Stillness looks like. What do people wear, what do buildings look like? Nora wrote up a whole document about those things and gave us some real-world reference points and that was a huge help in getting the look right.
Lastly, what do you want players to take away from The Fifth Season?
Personally, I hope the game makes people think about working together for the common good. In the Stillness, this is a necessity. In our world, we face many threats but we can’t even get people to agree on basic things like fascism is bad and we shouldn’t destroy the planet we live on. There is power in communities. There is power in collective action. Your campaign is your campaign, of course, but the Broken Earth Trilogy invites you to work with its themes.