Posted in: Anime, Reviews, Role Playing Games, Science Fiction

A look at the Cowboy Bebop Roleplaying Game

So on day 27 of the 2024 Character Creation Challenge I attempted to generate a character for the Cowboy Bebop Roleplaying Game. I had just received the hardback book from a Kickstarter campaign. I had backed it because I loved the anime and the live-action TV series and I always thought that it would be a great universe to run an RPG campaign.

The hardbound book is 270 pages long and is in full color. The ISBN is 979-12-80109-58-3 and was published by Don’t Panic Games. I love how the game company probably got this name from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but I had never heard of anything that they had released previously. The game director (writer?) is Michele Paroli. The bulk of the images are pulled directly from the anime.

There is an introduction, six chapters and a glossary. The chapters are 1-Rules (how to play the game), 2- Session (three of them make an episode or single sit-down to play), 3- Characters (how to make one), 4-Hunters in the Solar System (all about the Cowboy Bebop universe), 5- On Stage (kind of a GM section that describes the bounties your players may go after, factions encountered, etc.), 6- Playing the Bebop (the characters seen in the show and episodes put into RPG form).

Here are some photos I took when I first opened up my Kickstarter package. There is a lot of good graphics in this book.

The RPG rules is pretty straight forward for a narrative game (more on that below), even if the description of the rules are not. These pages attempted to tell me the rules of the game. And I did not get them at all. I remember getting major headaches trying to put this together in my head. There is no simple “This is the basics” of the game. I’m of the opinion that I need to understand the basic concept quickly so I can try to talk my friends into playing a game. If I can’t understand the game, I can’t recruit players. I mentioned this in my “Biggest turn-off when checking out a new RPG” blog post. If the RPG is not based off of a common system (D20, GURPS, 2D6, etc.) then give me a simple explanation of the game mechanics. In Cowboy Bebop, your character has traits (a description of a character look or item) and you can try to use them in a session (named after a music style) and you get a d6 dice pool and you have to get a roll higher than 5, 10 or 15 (depending if it’s the 1st, 2nd or 3rd session in the game) and… I tossed the book aside in disgust. I even asked on the forums if anyone else had looked in on this game, and only got one response two months later. I didn’t think this was a good sign for the game when thousands of posts are made in a day on this forum.

When I attempted to make a Cowboy Bebop RPG character in January, my goal was to do this Kickstarter review in February. After getting both frustrated and angry (I thought I had wasted my money on the book) I put the book in the “To do” pile and left it there for months. I would see the book and it would remind me that I needed to write my review, but I was still sore about how betrayed the book made me feel. A blog post that says, “Pretty graphics, lots of in-universe details, system sucks to high heaven” is a very boring review. I finally grabbed myself by the collar and said “finish this review because it’s blocking other blog posts that you want to publish”. So I sat down and gathered my photos and looked again at the book. Still feeling frustrated after another attempt to understand the system, I started searching online and came across this video review from The Final Frontiersmen. While he compared some of the game to Star Trek Adventures, he did say one thing that made a light bulb go off in my head. “The key points about this roleplaying game is it’s extremely narrative.” Too much narrative is not my cup of tea. I now understood that I had received my delivered pizza and when I opened up the box, instead of seeing piping hot cheese covering sausage and pepperoni on a layer of marinara sauce, I saw anchovies, artichoke hearts and feta cheese. If you like that type of pizza, or games that is 95%-99% narrative (practically done all by the players) then you may enjoy this game very much. I know there are players who do like these types of games. In the 90’s some of my friends were just digging the Amber diceless RPG that had come out at the time. But when I watched them play, it just seemed like group storytelling where they decided the outcome. Something that was popular in online sim groups, but had zero randomness (and in my mind, zero RPG soul). With how the Cowboy Bebop RPG was stuffed into this box, it was just barely a step above a sim.

For me, I’d prefer an RPG that has a simple system that is easy to pick up that gives the randomness of the dice. A good GM and good players can easily balance the dice of roll playing with the narrative of role playing. Star Trek Adventures and the latest Star Wars system that I experienced at the last SaltCON gave that good balance that encouraged player interaction that included a narrative with the luck of the dice. I remember my favorite Dungeons and Dragons DM describing how a dragon was defeated using combined results from the rolls we made. Other GMs have given the option of having the player describe the way the bad guy was defeated when they made the killing blow.

So now I can put this good looking book in my RPG shelf. And when I want to roleplay in the Cowboy Bebop universe, I’ll use this book for background information, but use a system like Frontier Space or Stars Without Number or a host of other science fiction based RPGs as the system.

One last thought before I close up this review. I’ve taken this as a “Lessons learned” moment when dealing with Kickstarters. The description for this game was a “d6 based system” and I assumed it was more like the Star Wars D6 game I had enjoyed in the past. I will not be making such an assumption again and I blame myself for not digging deeper. After January when I would read a gaming Kickstarter, if the system was not quickly explained to me in a sentence or two, I’ve asked the organizer for more information on the game. The last thing I want to do is open up the pizza box and see a pizza I have no desire to eat.

Have you had a chance to try the Cowboy Beebop RPG? What Kickstarter campaigns are you backing now? This article is open for discussion on the TardisCaptain dot Com Discord server. You can also email me at Carl (at) or click on my social media links with any comments.

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