Unbreakable: Revolution

On Monday we featured an interview with two of the producers behind Unbreakable: Revolution, the latest volume in the Unbreakable anthologies. We talked about some of the goings on behind the scenes and what it takes to publish not just a single anthology, but organize a series of anthologies. You can check that out here. Today I want to talk about the volume itself and what you can expect, and why you need to get not only Unbreakable: Revolution for your table, but go back and grab Unbreakable Volume 1 if you haven’t already.

Full disclosure, I am credited as Associate Editor for Unbreakable: Revolution, so I make no secret this is a project I support. So if you were looking for a scathing review of this book you will need to look elsewhere. Sadly, given the current bigoted state of our hobby and industry, I’m sure you’ll be able to find them soon enough.

So what is Unbreakable: Revolution? I don’t feel I can do much better than letting the official press release explain:

“Unbreakable: Revolution continues the adventure anthology tradition from 2020’s DriveThruRPG Platinum-bestseller Unbreakable Volume 1 but pivots away from the most common d20-based system. Instead, the 150-page book features indie tabletop RPG rulesets and systems, showcases elements of the community and industry, and promotes the versatility of Asian stories in a multitude of genres surrounding the “revolution” theme. The seven adventures represent cultures from India, the Philippines, Vietnam, China and the 33 artist, writer, editor, and layout contributors are spread all over the world.

The Unbreakable Anthology series is a platform for Asian creators to tell their stories through the tabletop RPG medium in the growing awareness of cultural appropriation, misrepresentation, and harm caused by the industry’s legacy, such as Wizards of the Coasts’ Oriental Adventures and similar products. The first anthology, Unbreakable Volume 1, features ten adventures using the D&D 5th Edition ruleset and has met commercial success ranking and critical acclaim on the DriveThruRPG marketplace.

Okay, let’s break that down. First, this is an “Own Voices” anthology with adventures written by creators drawing from their own cultures and experiences. No where in this volume will you find the melange of Asian cultures so prevalent when a non-Asian publisher approaches similar material. These are very specific and often personal adventures, delving into the cultures mentioned above as well as aspects of the Asian Diaspora. As a result the Game Master is presented with adventures that don’t only feel authentic, but are authentic in a way that is starkly for the better.

As the press release notes, none of the adventures in Unbreakable: Revolution are written for 5e, instead drawing on alternate TTRPG systems. Some, like John Harper’s Forged in the Dark, Shawn Tomkin’s Ironsworn RPG, Quest by the Adventure Guild, Year Zero Engine by Tomas Härenstam, are fairly well known RPG systems in the hobby. But also included are adventures based in up-and-coming indie RPG rulesets such as Nevyn Holmes’ Gun&Slinger and One Shot World by Yochai Gal. But don’t worry. Even if you don’t choose to use U:R as a launching point to explore these various TTRPGs, which you should, each adventure is also largely compatible with most popular old-school systems (OSR, d20). However you approach the adventures in this book, you as the Game Master will get a huge amount of utility from every page.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of the adventures on offer:

  • Big Rat, Don’t Eat my Millet by KC Shi features a world ruled by anthropomorphic rats. Players seek to escape their predicament and reach the surface, discovering the awful reality around them. Do they stay and work to make their homes better or do they venture into the unknown world above? 
  • Days of Powder, Plunder, and Plot by Kevin Thien Vu Long Nguyen features Vietnamese pirates, ship battles, and a prized warship to turn the tides of revolutionary efforts. 
  • Make of Thee an Instrument of Peace by Pam Punzalan is set in 19th-century Spanish Colonial Philippines. A powerful demon has possessed the governor-general and players are supernatural hunters tasked to stop the demon’s reign for good. 
  • Bad Luck Fortune by Doryen Chin is set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1970s with the central cast of players being members of a family detective agency. A warring feud between two Chinatown gangs stands between the players and the sinister dark forces at work. 
  • The Crimson Uprising by Rajib Kalita has players confront the hidden truth behind a seemingly joyous celebration and warring factions ready for all-out war after decades of strife and tragedy. 
  • The Mountain’s Shroud by Ari Santiago features a journey to discover the origin of a supposedly blessed shroud while dealing with pursuers, orthodoxical dogma, and challenges to everything they know. 
  • The First Diya of Navratri by Charu Patel has players assume the roles of either sentient weapons or their wielders in this adventure about rebelling against cultural and religious oppression.

All of the adventures in Unbreakable: Revolution, as you would expect from the title, are themed around rebellion and revolution. But each adventure explores these themes in different ways. In “Big Rat, Don’t Eat my Millet”, for example, you play as anthropomorphic rats escaping an oppressive regime, only to discover the world outside is not what you were led to believe. “Bad Luck Fortune”, on the other hand, explores the possible consequences of rebelling against the bonds and traditions of family, and how the bonds against which we rebel can still empower us. Whichever adventure you choose, you will get a thoughtful, insightful, and yes, sometimes troubling look at the themes involved. Each adventure carries its own Content Warning, so you know what to expect going in. And Unbreakable: Revolution encourages the use of Safety Tools at your table, which at this point should be the standard for any TTRPG resource. 

The Unbreakable team tweeted out this full list with images of the first and facing page for each adventure; check that out to get a taste of the art and layout work inside. What you see in those tiny snippets carries through the rest of this book. The layout overall is clean and easy to read, with great pains taken to make this a useful book for Game Masters. But outside the volume’s utility, Unbreakable: Revolution is also a beautiful and evocative book through which to read. All the artists involved have outdone themselves. Art Director Caroline Amaba has done an amazing job selecting and coordinating pieces for this volume that help immerse the Game Master into each story. All the images throughout the book would make excellent hand-outs to help the players gain that same immersion (an excellent argument to get both the PDF and print versions).

So this is an excellent book of adventures that any GM would be happy to run at their table, presented with utility and beauty. That would be enough of a reason to hit up DriveThruRPG and buy Unbreakable: Revolution right now. But wait, there’s more!

Buying a copy of Unbreakable: Revolution also means supporting a publishing team that believes in equitable treatment for all its creators. From the beginning, Jacky Leung (Creative Lead & Managing Director) created an environment of transparency and trust amongst the contributors that is frankly and sadly rare on many anthology projects. At the same time Jazz Eisinger (Editor In Chief) made sure everyone knew what was expected from us and when. Between them they created a secure, comfortable, “no crunch” work space, with emphasis placed on the well-being of the creators involved. So when you pick up your copy you know you are supporting a good publisher bringing you quality work.

And I cannot stress this enough, you are supporting Asian creators telling their stories in the Own Voice, not another pastiche by a non-Asian publisher. We are long past the point where such projects are acceptable, no matter how “well researched” they seem to be. Frankly, why the hell should we settle for them anyway? There are Asian creators ready and willing to share their stories, their adventures, with us. The only reason to value pastiche over the real, specific material from Asian creators is to quiet those voices in the TTRPG space. Supporting projects like Unbreakable: Revolution and publishers like the Unbreakable team shows we are ready to move beyond gatekeeping and bigotry in our hobby and industry.

Which leads to the big question every review attempts to answer: should you buy Unbreakable: Revolution? Absolutely, for all the reason presented above. But also because these are good, solid adventures that are going to frustrate, excite, and engage your players. This volume presents hours upon hours of shared adventure for you and your friends, with perspectives, dangers, and challenges they have likely never encountered. Flip the book open to any page and you will find something new and exciting for your table. Sadly, due to issues with their printer it’s only available as a PDF right now. But when it is available in print, this is a book that will fit neatly on your shelf…and then get constantly pulled off the shelf and put to work in your game. Don’t sleep on Unbreakable: Revolution, get a copy in your hands soonest.

Those are my thoughts, but what are yours? Have you grabbed a copy of Unbreakable: Revolution, and if so what did you think? Tell us in the comments or on Twitter.

You can find Unbreakable Publishers online at unbreakablerpg.com.