1) How would you describe River of Heaven RPG to potential players? What blurb would you give them to hook them in?
It's an easy to pick up and play game of high adventure in the far future, where man and society has been changed by technology but not beyond recognition. i.e. Mankind hasn't passed the Singularity Event where technology is almost indistinguishable from magic and society is a lot more hive like. It riffs off novels like Dune and Alistair Reynolds's Revelation Space. There's mercantile houses that control interplanetary trade, along star lines plied by vast Guildships that move people and goods via wormholes. It's a time when Humanity is generally optimistic and happily exploring the mysteries of the bigger Universe they find themselves in. The system expresses chances for success as percentiles and is quick and easy to play.
Note that's what I would give a player uninitiated into the wonders of D100 gaming ;)
2) While I understand the game is based on BRP sort of, how much of the mechanics are modernised and what sort of modernisation along these lines exist in the game?
This page lists the main features of OQ and compares it broadly against BRP/RQ of old.
2a) Along these lines, what would you consider the strengths of the game mechanics? What about the weaknesses?
Strengths are that it's quick to play, ridiculously easy for the GM to improvise NPCS and items, and blends into the background while retaining enough 'game' to engage the players when the dice are rolled. Character gen is fast and advancement quick and focused because the skill list is simplified.
Weaknesses is that players who like more detailed and crunchier game rules may be put off. For example OpenQuest doesn't do fiddly small modifiers, that the players gradually build up and negotiate with the GM, but instead gives a flat +25% to +50% modifier if the character has a significant or exceptional advantage in a given situation.
3) Do the players have the option of playing any alien, non-human races in the game? If so, how many of them are available?
Off the top of my head there's about 10 different Human subspecies, the result of genetic engineering. All are available to play and have different abilities. Truly Alien species are the antagonists of the game and are in many cases completely off stage.
4) I understand that characters have Augmentations. Is this primarily cybertechnology and that sort of thing? If so, how pervasive is it? Can that element of the game be minimised, or is it an inherent and central part of the game framework?
It's nanotech, the less clunky step up from cybertech. Its a central part of the game, in that all the players being troubleshooting adventurers have some at the start, usually to do with their profession. Normal folk and minor characters will be less tooled up. Your version of the game could easily minimise its use, making it the preserve of the rich for example.
5) Is there any form of psionics in the game? If so, how prevalent/common is this?
None. I think John (the author) felt that he had done Psionics enough in Cthulhu Rising (his previous game) and while the rules he came up for Psionics for BRP were functional, their application in play was problematic (take a telepath on an Investigation and you'll see why). Also apart from Dune, psionics don't really play a big part in the fiction the game is based on.
6) One of the things about broad-scope science fiction rpgs is simply a matter of the scope, especially in games that span galaxies. So, the biggie, for me: What do the player characters *do* in the game? :)
This was my initial question to John when he mentioned it to me. Both of us had memories of being befuddled by Transhuman Space. ;) The big answer is that the period is rich with opportunities for the characters to explore Human space. John also keeps the focus quite tight on the time of expansion and exploration known as the "Bright Age" and as well as a full adventure provides a whole chapter of adventure seeds.
And there you have Newt's answers to me. Like I said, these answers sold me on the River of Heaven RPG, and made me decide to pledge my money around the game. If you've liked the answers to these questions as well, here's the link where you can go and support the game as well.
River of Heaven SF RPG Kickstarter