Okay - I am not going to gush, I am not going to scream that Tribe 8 is the greatest game ever, and the Dream Pod 9 the greatest company ever. Others have done that quite enough already. What I am going to try to do is give a balanced review of the game based on several adventures played through.
The BookWell, to start with the least impressive aspect of this game - the book itself. At 208 pages softbound this sucker sells for $30, which is steep even for the RPG market curve. This may be no huge surprise to those who follow Dream Pod 9's products - as they all tend to be hideously expensive, but it is still something of a turn off. Especially considering that they obviously didn't spend any of the money on editing... grammatical mistakes are heavy enough that even I noticed them.
Following what has become standard practice among many games the book is divided into two basic sections - the first being the history and setting of the world, with little reference to rules, and the second being the rules themselves. This works very well, in that it keeps mechanics separated from the setting, letting the game works stay in the background while you are forming your opinion and conception of the world.
The biggest problem with the layout of the chapters is that there is often a decided lack of separation and titles, leading to the reader drifting from one section to another without realizing you've moved. It is not a big deal, but it is one that can lead to a minor annoyance when you are flipping through the book in the middle of a game trying to find a specific reference.
The SettingTribe 8 is set about 150 - 200 years in the future (though it is never stated). Our world has collapsed, though the initial cause of the collapse is (thankfully) never stated. Into this vacuum came the Nomads - spirits from before history who returned to earth to teach mankind. But something went very wrong, and the Takers came - demons of insane power and really really nasty habits. They plunged the earth into a war, and took the survivors into concentration camps where they did stuff that would make most White Wolf Vampires puke. For an unknown time humanity remained slaves to the takers - called the Z'bri, and nearly lost themselves in the horror of the camps. Then came the Fatima's, the demi-goddesses (only one of them male, and he gets knocked off in short order), who freed humanity from the camps by warring on the Z'bri, giving gifts of magic (called synthesis) and teaching humans how to be human once more. Each Fatima then took the members of one of the camps to be her children - thus forming the tribes. Now there is an uneasy balance between Z'bri and the Fatimal tribes, as each watches the other warily.
In time the Fatimas started to become corrupt (as we all know that authority figures are bad), and requiring slavish devotion from their followers. Those who would not give it were banished from the tribes. These fallen become the main character group of the game, the humans who are answerable to neither fatima or z'bri. They are exiled and in deep trouble all the time, but are trying to learn to build something out of themselves and the ashes of the past.
All in all I find the setting to be wonderful, with a balance of horror, magic, and conspiracy that lends itself to solid role play rather than mere monster bashing, wasteland running, artifact collecting roll play that many fantasy and post-holocaust games get into. It has a great deal of potential, though there is the ever present hook of a sourcebook that gives yet more detail to the game, and to my great surprise it actually works very well in actual play. Despite the depth of the setting my players and I had not trouble keeping names and places straight - mostly because they are all kept distinct in the write ups.
The one problem I do have with the setting is that it has a very slight tendency to lean towards the angry teen antiestablishment mentality of many of the trendy games of this decade. The fallen are held up above the fatimal tribes simply because they won't admit to the fatima's authority. The fact that many of them are murderers, rapists, and violent socio-paths is given a bit less play than it should be. However, every time you think that the game is going to cross the line into an evil-empire bash em all mentality it steps back and shows a more objective picture. There are good tribals, and even some good (or a great deal of good) in the Fatimas. I just wish that the writers had done a more even job of portraying it, making the position of the fallen all the more difficult.
The SystemTribe 8 uses Dream Pod 9's much vaunted Silhouette rules system. Much has been said about this system, so I will keep it short. The system is solid, without being anything close to brilliant. It works well in play, leading to fast easy resolution with a minimum of fuss. Combats run decently smoothly and with a fair degree of realism, doing a good job of reflecting real combat - which is both more and less deadly than many RPGs make it out to be. However, the system is a very open thing, and needs a good deal of GM monitoring, and character generation is a bit more complicated than it really needs to be.
The ArtI'm probably going to take it in the mouth from a lot of Tribe 8 fans for this. But I really have some problems with the art in the book. Most of the pictures are drawn with skill and flare, and do a decent job of letting you see what the world of Tribe 8 would look like. So what's my problem? Well, I think it can be summed up by a comment one of my players made when I showed them a picture of an NPC they had just met.
"Wow" says he, "That looks like a really good picture that someone peed on."
The long and the short of it being that the ink wash, dapple, worn look to a lot of the pictures gets overdone. Yes, I know it's supposed to be atmospheric, but often enough it ends up being annoying. The art in this book would have been the most absolutely spectacular I'd ever seen - if someone hadn't peed on it.
Running the GameI've read a lot of RPG's in my time - some of which impressed me as much or more than Tribe 8. But when I got down to playing them they fell flat. Tribe 8, however, is one game that actually lives up to it's promise on the page when taken into play.
I have now played several games of Tribe 8 with two different player groups. Every player in every group is deeply into the game, finding the possibilities fascinating and the setting more than worth exploring. And wonder of wonders, I'm enjoying my time as GM (called Weaving in Tribe 8 - but much as I may like the game I'm not going to start using the newest lame term for GM), which is something that rarely happens.
The ConclusionTribe 8 is a solid game with flashes of brilliance. It is not perfect, and it does have several problems (some of which are worked out, of course, is sourcebooks), such as the Z'bri coming across as more mechanical than spiritually horrific, and the constant used of trendy themes like bondage and studded leather. However, it looks good on the page and plays as well as any game I have ever played in a 15 year Rping career. It won't be for everyone (sci fi fans will probably not be hugely into it), but despite that and despite the high cost I would have to recommend this game if you are looking for a fantasy setting with teeth.