ARC: Doom Tabletop RPG (2021)

Mork Borg is an RPG about what you do in the face on an inevitable apocalypse. ARC: Doom Tabletop RPG (2021), by momatoes, asks a similar question, but against a less absolute backdrop. There is a thimble of hope here for those willing to risk everything.

The clear inspiration is the real world Doomsday Clock, which is a sort of data-fueled metaphor for how close we are to a man-made apocalypse, created in the wake of global nuclear proliferation. It started at 7 minutes to midnight (midnight being the bad thing) back in 1947. The Iron Maiden song “2 Minutes to Midnight” is a reference to the Doomsday Clock. As of this writing, we’re just 100 seconds off.

The feeling of dread conjured up by that information? That’s the fuel of ARC. The rules are light weight but not quite a storytelling game — it often reminds me of The Black Hack, though there isn’t much more than a dim echo of D&D here (though the combat system is surprisingly tactical, thanks to the brutality of a game based on rolling under the target on a single D6). The game is intended for short, finite campaigns, with the countdown edging closer to doom, both through the passage of time (at set intervals, determined before play) and as a consequence of player actions (sometime players can even wager against the clock). Characters have skills and such, but their core is formed by a trio of possible approaches to problems: Creative, Careful and Concerted. That should give you a good idea of ARC’s baseline philosophy.

That’s essentially it. Play is arranged around trying to pull the world back from the brink while inadvertent player action (and failure) sends it sliding closer. This is very much a collaboration between the players and the GM, though, not an adversarial relationship. Mechanically, it feels new and special, but philosophically, it is definitely rooted in a lot of smart design philosophy from all corners of the RPG hobby. And on top of being wicked smart, it is gorgeous too. Somehow, momatoes made the game, the art and the layout of this thing, and it comes together as a thing of beauty.

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