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The Fifth Season RPG will expose N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth to a new audience

The apocalyptic science fiction trilogy will be adapted by Green Ronin

A Black woman, with powers to move stone, flexes as shards of earth hover around her. A village is in the disatance. She wears a gold sash around her waiste. Image: Green Ronin Publishing
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy is being adapted to a tabletop role-playing game by Green Ronin Publishing. The Fifth Season: Roleplaying in the Stillness will use the well-established d6-based Adventure Game Engine (AGE) system, the same system that underpins many of Green Ronin’s most popular titles. With it, players will be able to guide their own homemade communities (comms) across Earth’s last remaining supercontinent. A crowdfunding campaign runs on Backerkit from now through Feb. 23.

“With any license, the first thing you want to do is identify what is unique about it, and then how you can translate that into the game,” Green Ronin founder and president Chris Pramas told Polygon. “The whole way that The Fifth Season RPG works is different than a lot of games, because one of the key aspects of the whole series is that to survive these cataclysmic Fifth Seasons, you need community.”

In Jemisin’s apocalyptic world, humanity must band together into tight-knit comms in order to survive a seemingly never-ending series of natural disasters. There are interpersonal as well as logistical concerns at every turn, and as cataclysms pile one atop the other only the most cohesive groups will survive. Players will create characters based on the Broken Earth trilogy’s strict caste system, which divides workers from creators and even from those tasked with raising the next generation.

Embedded within that rigid caste system are the secret orogenes, powerful magelike figures who are persecuted — and, in the books, often shunned out of comms — as others fear their titanic abilities. Think Earthbenders mixed with X-Men and you’re on the right track.

“The rulebook has rules for minor orogenes,” Pramas said. “People who have talent but they haven’t [...] been trained or anything like that. And you can play one of those characters with limited powers, but you won’t be shifting tectonic plates or anything like that. [...] That can create interesting story stuff where you’re part of the community, but you’re secretly an orogene, and all the difficulties that that engenders.”

Campaigns will kick off with elaborate comm-building exercises. Comms will vary greatly based on who populates them, but also on where they are geographically located in the world. Those nuances will make them a kind of player character in their own right, Pramas said. Like the books, the game will also deal with issues of race.

“I actually want to give credit to Chris and Green Ronin for reaching out. [...] Credit to Ronin for being proactive [on these issues],” said co-designer Tanya DePass, founder and director of I Need Diverse Games, a not-for-profit advocacy organization. “[For] reaching out to me and the other [people of color] that are working on this; [for] making sure that we have our own voices for these stories that are being told that do center around people of color, and Blackness, and also survival and calamity. It’s a little too much like right now, but it is what it is. When the books came out the [real] world wasn’t burning, so.”

This isn’t Green Ronin’s first time dealing with challenging and culturally relevant source material, Pramas said.

Blue Rose is the most obvious example,” Pramas said. “That is our romantic fantasy role-playing game. It also uses the AGE system, and it’s inspired by fiction from Mercedes Lackey, and Diane Duane, and Tamora Pierce, people like that. It’s super LGBTQA-plus-friendly, and that was not well received in certain corners of gaming [when it launched in 2005]. But it’s one of those things that we felt was important.

“We’re also working right now on [...] Twilight Accord,” he continued, “which goes even further than Blue Rose in that it specifically centers the queer experience. It’s not just like, Oh, they’re also here! This is about the experience of queer people. We are not afraid to put things into games that we believe in our personal lives. That’s how we are here.”

The Fifth Season core rulebook is the focus of this initial crowdfunding campaign. It will be available as a standard ($60) and a deluxe version ($80), both of which will come with a complementary PDF. A Roll20 version is also available as an add-on, as well as a game master’s kit, which includes a screen and quick reference materials. Delivery is expected by this summer. Meanwhile, the next project for Green Ronin will be a traditional campaign book that Pramas says will be able to occupy a group for up to a full year of play.

DePass, who is close friends with Jemisin, said that she is relishing the opportunity to translate a series with which she is so intimately familiar to the tabletop — a space where players can explore, but also be introduced to Broken Earth potentially for the first time.

“[I’m most excited about] giving to the world and to people that may not be familiar with the books a mode that they can engage with, because not everyone gets information the same way,” DePass said. “Some people may not want to read the books, but it’s still getting them The Fifth Season in a format that they can understand and engage with in a way that — I’m excited to see what happens.

“I hope there’s a lot of let’s plays that come out of it and people doing shows,” she added, “with the caveat of I hope they’re respectful to the source material in the game.”

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