Dream Pod 9, from their beginnings publishing sourcebooks and adventures for Cyberpunk 2020 and the original Jovian Chronicles books for Mekton II, have established themselves as a company with a dedication to quality, originality and just plain good games. Tribe 8 is no exception to this tradition.
In a nutshell Tribe 8 is a post-apocalyptic fantasy game. Set against the backdrop of a future where the civilizations that we know have been eradicated by the incursion of spiritual beings known as Z'bri, Tribe 8 places the PCs into the ranks of the Fallen. Banished from their birth tribes for transgressions ranging from heresy to outright sociopathic behavior, the Fallen have been rejected by the Fatimas that head each of the Seven Tribes. These Fatimas are themselves spiritual beings, in a sense avatars of the Mother Goddess, that came to free humanity from the bondage and horror the Z'bri subjected them to. However, the Fallen have been prophesied to become the Eighth Tribe of the slain Fatima Joshua, who will lead humankind into a new world of freedom from Fatimas and Z'bri alike. Throw into this a good dose of animistic spiritualism, ghosts, visions, omens, and dream magic called Synthesis and you have a very cool game. Tribe 8 uses the Silhouette system, the same as Heavy Gear and Jovian Chronicles.
There are three criteria that I have in order to consider a roleplaying game or supplement to be truly outstanding. The first is a good background. It does not have to be detailed or complex, but originality is a must. Next is a good story. The background, now matter how unique or interesting, must be able to support a story that can move along in a way conducive to roleplaying campaigns - it must go places. Finally, it must have a system that lends itself well to what the setting intends to do with the characters, without a lot of major flaws or unnecessarily complex rules.
On the count of background, Tribe 8 comes out on top of any roleplaying game I have ever read. It is rich and vibrant, carefully blending the the familiar with the fantastic. The entire first half of the rulebook (109 pages) is devoted to narratives that lay out the background in prose instead of dry text. Presented in this fashion the setting comes to life. The only downside is the fact that all of this is very intimidating to the first time player and there is little that can be done to rectify this aside from reading the background material.
The story behind Tribe 8 is equally gripping. It's not just important that from the very start you know that the Fallen are destined for greater things - the story is also interesting and options come to mind without a lot of brainstorming. The descriptions of the factions, the Tribes, the Z'bri, are ripe with hooks that can be used to advance this storyline.
Finally, we come down to the system. On a first read-through the system is "intuitive" - meaning that there are no mechanics that seem innately unrealistic or difficult. There are ten attributes that are well balanced among physical, mental and spiritual traits, as well as a handful of secondary attributes. With the exception of one or two, all attributes are "zero average", ranging from -4 to +4. The skill mechanic is a modified dice pool. Skills range from one to seven. When a character attempts a task they roll one six-sided die for every level of skill. The highest result is out of the dice is taken (for example three dice reading 3, 5, 6 would be read as "6"). Multiple sixes past the first add one to result, and the appropriate attribute modifies the final result, which is compared to a difficulty number. The result of this system can be very subtle; while characters with higher skill can potentially achieve higher results (and fumble - which occurs on straight 1s across the dice - a lot less) the biggest benefit is that they succeed more predictably at tasks. Combat is quick and can be deadly - the given damage value of any weapon is multiplied by how successful the attack was. There are not lists of manuevers, hit locations, armor coverage or different types of damage - leaving many of these details in the hands of the player's and GM's descriptive skills. The Synthesis rules do not have the feel of most magic systems for games - they are flexible and freeform and allow for a great variety of effects.
Tribe 8 is a must buy for any gamer - a fantastic setting, a dynamic setting, and a solid system. This may very well be the roleplaying game produced in the last year.
Style: 5 (Excellent!)