An overcast coastline. Two people stand in the middle ground overlooking the sea.

A Love Letter to ‘Degenesis: Rebirth’

I write in gratitude to Marko, Erwan, SMV, and the lads of Liqua.

Back in 2017, while attending PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia, I learned about a new tabletop RPG called Degenesis: Rebirth. I noticed it because of the huge banners displaying the most polished artwork for any tabletop game that I had ever seen. The books for sale were massive hardcover texts chock full of high quality art and fascinating lore. But I have a policy. I do not buy books for tabletop RPGs before I get the chance to play them. I don’t want to spend money first and find out later that I dislike the game. These books in particular had a high price tag, so despite their temptation, I walked away.

Later, I told my friend Doug about Degenesis. Doug helped me fall in love with tabletop games in the first place, so we talk a lot about them. At the time, I lamented how I was always the Game Master and never a player. I wanted to play Degenesis, not run a campaign for it, but I couldn’t imagine that kind of future. He commiserated with me, we accepted our fates, and moved on.

And then, months later, Doug reached out to me with the most unexpected news. He said he’d been reading the Degenesis ruleset, that it is brilliant, and that he would be more than willing to run a campaign so I could play in it. It’s not enough to say that I was ecstatic. I immediately purchased the PDFs of the two core books. We picked two friends to join us, and in March 2018, we started our first session of the first prewritten adventure, “In Thy Blood.”

It’s 2021 now. We’ve been playing Degenesis: Rebirth for almost three years. Once again, I find myself grateful to Doug for giving me the opportunity to fall in love with something.

Artwork showing a pair of weathered hands against a desert floor. The right hand holds a revolver. The word "forgive" is scratched onto the chamber. The left hand holds a single bullet. The words "kill 'em all" is scratched into the side of the bullet.

Corona creationis

Before Degenesis, the only tabletop RPG I had played was Dungeons & Dragons (and its variant, Pathfinder). D&D is a great game and caters to a lot of different people, hence its popularity. Immediately, I knew that Degenesis would be different — everything from the art style to the genre is everything D&D is not. But I was not prepared for Degenesis to blow my mind. It’s not enough for me to say they are different games. If someone wants to play Degenesis, they need to completely let go of tabletop RPG staples. Things like classes, min-maxing, and heroism.

Everything about Degenesis centers on the story that its developer SIXMOREVODKA — and in particular, its creator, Marko Djurdjević — wants to tell. It’s a dark, harsh setting. Humanity is barely surviving a world ravaged by an apocalyptic event. An alien seed has crashed into the Earth, causing horrible illness and horrific mutations. Anyone with a gun has a massive advantage, but knives are plentiful. A single, well placed stab wound will fell even the boldest man.

I am no stranger to dark, terrible futures. I revel in these stories. And so I devoured every scrap of lore, every beautiful and haunting artwork. The deeper I dug, the more the world unfolded for me, like an intricate puzzle. After my friends and I finished “In Thy Blood,” I joined the game’s official Discord server and lurked for a time. I wanted to learn from other fans, hoping to grasp the extent of the game world’s complexity. But I am shy in new communities. At the time, I was content enough to read without joining the conversation, all while expanding my knowledge.

And then 2020 happened.

A knife rests against an African woman's cheek. Sweat trickles down her temple. She wears her hair back in braids and several earrings.

Death is the road to awe

As with many little things in 2020, I can’t remember when and how things changed. They just did. One moment, I was a quiet fan; the next moment, I was giving advice to newer players. I mostly explained lore and how to let go of their expectations. Eventually, I wrote a new player’s guide for Unpossible Journeys. None of it went unnoticed. I became a “regular” in the fan community. Things picked up from there at a wildly unexpected pace: I read the other prewritten campaigns, befriended the junior producer Erwan Roudaut, made a companion video to my article, and started a podcast with Erwan called The Cluster Speaks. Marko and Erwan even asked me, along with some other fans, to preview their latest and greatest masterpiece, “Justitian.”

Looking back, I wonder about it all. How did a tabletop RPG captivate me so much? How is it possible for a story to be so nuanced and so compelling? And how did a bunch of random, faceless strangers on the Internet become a source of friendship and support during a global pandemic? As a game, Degenesis: Rebirth is nothing short of genius. My friends and I have enjoyed every single moment in all the adventures we have played thus far. We are wrapping up one campaign now and looking forward to more. And as a community — well, I cannot speak for the wider community. But there isn’t a more passionately loyal and sincerely encouraging group in it as the guys I have come to know.

Last night, Erwan passed on a message for me from Marko. He complimented not only my deep understanding of Degenesis‘ world and story, but also my skill at explaining even complex concepts in an easy way for new players. I do not boast much, but that ability is a point of pride for me. Being recognized for it is such high praise. And the thing is, Degenesis: Rebirth has given me so much: new friends, countless hours of entertainment, a rich world to explore, and inspiration for my own creative endeavors. It even helped me become a better storyteller and Game Master. If I can continue to give back by buying the merchandise, creating fan work, and helping new players love the game as much as I do, then I absolutely will.

This is only the beginning.

A heavily scarred, bald man with one eye proffers a black-and-red coin in his gloved hand.

All artwork on this post is by SIXMOREVODKA.

2 Comments

  1. I have yet to actually play the game, but I can’t stop evangelising it among friends and colleagues. I mean, it’s worth it for the art alone, to say nothing of how deep the world is. I am more a fan of Improv-focused games like Powered by the Apocalypse games these days, but even so, the richness and sense of verisimilitude (broadly speaking) of Degenesis:Rebirth is extremely compelling. I love settings that are laid out like this, this sprawling world that’s really deeply _inhabited_ by the developers, and since there isn’t really a proper Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind RPG (or something that evokes some of that same sense of wonder, horror and mystery), it really ticks a lot of boxes for me. Congrats on your journey from casual observer to convert, though, and I hope you are able to convert many others.

    I am wondering, though– I know the site is exhaustive, and there’s a YouTube live action trailer, but I have so far not found a succinct “primer” (no pun intended) on the game, the various factions, and whatnot. I wonder what are your top things that you love about the setting and if that’s worth communicating here…?

    • I don’t think it’s possible to condense the Degenesis: Rebirth into a succinct summary. That’s the beauty of it, and if people are not willing to go through the same labor of unlocking the puzzle, then they may not be an appropriate player for this kind of game. However, Unpossible Journeys has a few guides and reviews that may help a new person.

      I think writing about my favorite things about Degenesis’ setting would require another blog post. Perhaps sometimes in the future.

      I hope you can play your first game soon.

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