Feb 042013

Click for Kuro website

For those just joining us, you might want to jump back a few pages, and take a look at the previous parts of this review, looking at the setting information, and character creation. Now, if you’re all caught up, we’ll take a look at how the system works.

Carrying on from character creation, you will remember that each character has a list of eight traits, spit into mental and physical, and a whole bunch of skills and specialisations. All these numbers are used to work out the likelihood of passing or failing to perform anything other than simple actions. To give you an example, I’m going back to my still unnamed spoilt brat gambler kid I made earlier. Although his primary focus is his gambling hobby, I picked out a couple of extra skills that would be useful for him. Within the ‘Deception’ skill group, gambling was an easy choice to turn into a specialty, but right there next to it was sleight of hand. Had to be done really didn’t it? In a situation where the character needed to palm a card and replace it to give himself even a chance of staying at the table, he would need to make a skill roll. Difficulty would be set by the GM and then the dice wold be rolled.

As this is a test of manual dexterity, the base statistic is easy to determine, but the game encourages creativity in this regard, with no solid tie-in between skill and trait, instead allowing the players and GM the chance to play to their strengths, wherever able. In this case it’s fairly straightforward, but there could be an argument made to use Charisma instead to distract the other gamblers, but that might be a stretch. So, we take the trait number, and grab that many six sided dice; in my case a paltry two. We then take a look at the score I have in the skill. Deception comes in at three points, which would be correct for any specialisation that falls under it, unless you’ve whacked a few specialisation points in it as well. I did that very thing and raised my sleight of hand to lofty height of four. This means I have no ‘Gimikku’ (gained if a specialisation hits five points) to give me any extra bonuses to this roll, so lets just take a shot at it. I roll both d6, and add the skill rank to the total.

Here’s where it gets interesting though, and reminds why I love games where the system becomes more than just a means of randomising success, and instead adds to the feel of the setting. Not only does it throw in my favourite mechanic - that of the ‘exploding dice’ – but it adds its own touch. In Japanese, the number four is ‘Shi’, which also means, quite literally, death. This means that any roll of a four on a d6 is not included in the final score. Might seem harsh, but what with exploding dice, I think it should balance out with no real problems. It also gave me an idea for a particularly sinister house rule.

Imagine a skill check that is almost too important to fail, but fail it does. All because of the player staring down at the dreaded number four on his freshly rolled dice. If the four was included, they would have just scraped by. If only there was something to be done. As the GM, you offer to put that malevolent die back into contention, on the understanding that Death will notice, and seek recompense. Maybe not straight away, and maybe not to anyone immediately connected to the PC, but Shi will take its due…

You must also take into account the degree of any success or failure based on how far away the result was from the target number, but this is simple maths and should not impede game play at any time. All this sounds great so far, but as mentioned in the last review, there are five different ‘Gimikku’ and I think that until the players get a few games under their collective belts, this could slow things down without a cheat sheet for each player. A minor quibble at most though, as I think the system stands up very well, both in how it allows players a certain freedom to play to their strengths, and how well it helps with immersing the players into a highly superstitious game world.

Combat works much the same as regular skill checks, although a lot more of them will be opposed checks, which work exactly as you would imagine them to. One addition I do like though is the simplicity of the combat maneuvers that are available. In either close combat or at range, you can choose to sacrifice accuracy for damage or vice versa. Both are simple to work out, and mean that players can once again adapt to suit the strengths and weaknesses of their characters. Add to this a bunch of situational modifiers that should be fairly standard to most people who’ve played an RPG with a tactical combat system, and you’re done.

So far, I have to say that I’m loving what I’ve been reading. the system seems to flow quickly while being easily adaptable to the fluid situations one would expect to encounter, and even a few one might not. Number of dice plus modifier might seem a less than simple way to calculate a chance of success, but having played original Deadlands for several years, I can attest to how quickly it becomes second nature. There’s just one bit left of this review, and if I get the chance I will treat you all to the GM’s section by the end of the week.

Dec 282012

For the record, I don’t want people to expect too many more book reviews on this site, unless they are actual role playing books of some kind. This is a noteworthy exception though, as within half a dozen pages, I was thinking about how best to turn this bad boy into an RPG. I know that I’m not alone in this, as I lent it to my better half, and after reading the first few chapters, she was contemplating the exact same thing, and even had a base system in mind.

What makes this dystopic, cyberpunk book so suitable as a role playing game then? The setting. Oh lord, the setting. From the off, Mr. Cline paints a vivid portrait of two distinct worlds, both of which are full of rich pickings indeed for game play possibilities. To put this context, the book takes place in a near future where the poverty divide is wider than ever, and global warming paired with energy shortages and wars have made the world a hell of a place to live unless you’re one of the elite. The alternative is the OASIS. A fully immersive VR social media/MMO world, open for anyone with the hardware required to log on.

Even this plane, with it’s countless worlds and settings, is divided, as only the entrance way is available for free. Leveling up your avatar costs money to get them to worlds that provide quests, and for Wade – the hero of the piece, that just isn’t possible. His only options involve hitching a ride with school friends and grinding low level kills for their paltry XP and treasure. That is until he solves the first clue in a game that runs throughout the story. Without going too far into a plot that is much better discovered by reading the book, the creator of Oasis was dead to begin with. And his will involved giving away everything - including the rights to Oasis – to the first person to find the Easter egg he had hidden in the virtual universe he had created.

The first clue? Well, that was just perfect for role players.

The copper key awaits explorers

In a tomb filled with horrors

But you have much to learn

If you hope to earn

A place among the high scorers.

Anyone else getting an idea that they might have a rough idea on this one? This is part of the beauty of the book, it is so totally self aware, not only about it’s content, but also its audience. It could have been heavy handed with this, and become a series of knowing nods that becomes tired so very quickly, but it never does. Cline is obviously in love with the pop culture of his own youth, just as much as the man behind the riddles. Luckily, I’m willing to bet that a whole heap of my readers are too. Any of you ever annoyed the snot out of someone when a movie from your childhood has come on, by quoting the whole thing verbatim? I know I have, and still do.

This simple activity becomes instrumental in the book, and just made me smile to think how well I would do if the movie in question was Ferris Bueller’s day Off…

This is not a real book review, and I’m not going to go into loads of detail about why the author chose the world he did to tell his story or any of the stuff that real reviewers get up to. Instead I’m going to implore you all to try and pick up a copy of this book. It is worth the cost at full price from a real book shop – and since I work in one, I hope you will all pick it from your own local book emporium – but with money being tight, I present to you a link to grab a slightly cheaper copy. 

I hope you all enjoy it, and I look forward to hearing from you what inspiration you have taken from this wonderful book, and how you plan on using it in your own role playing games.

Oct 092012

Today my gaming society gets together and each GM gives a pitch for a full academic year long game that they want to run, and hope to get enough interest to make it happen. We’ve sadly had a body drop out for personal reasons, so with the field shrunk I should be fine to run my post-cyberpunk game set in Warren EllisTransmetropolitan universe, using the Cyberpunk 2020 rules. below is a little bit of prose that I’ve been working on as a teaser for prospective players. It basically gives a tiny bit of background about the characters’ origins and the world they will be playing in. What I haven’t done is go into detail about the style of game play – as I want that to be decided upon by the players as a committee - and the types of character they can play. The beauty of starting a campaign this way is that the players will be every-man characters, meaning they will get the chance to play pretty much anything they want, within the scope of the game. Which basically limits them to ‘human’.

I know most of you won’t be at the meeting tonight, but feel free to read it anyway, and as always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments box below.

You all had your reasons to take a spin on the roulette wheel of cryogenics. Those reasons are your own, but with the money out of your account and a detailed form filled in you were hopeful for what the future would hold. In the future, they would rebuild you. they could even make you a better you. Never liked the way your chin looked? Fine, take that picture of the person you always wished you would be and clip it to the form. Maybe even just a younger version of yourself, giving you the chance to live your life again, to avoid some mistakes, or just make sure that this time, your youth wasn’t wasted on someone young.

And then it happened. Your clock ran out. Luckily you were close enough to a hospital and had your will prepared, and after the postmortem was carried out, your head was detached and inexpertly flash frozen and sealed in its container, your paperwork stuck to the side in a clear plastic envelope. Your hopes and dreams, and your brain, thoroughly damaged by the flawed freezing procedure was placed on a shelf with dozens, hundreds of others. People like you, who threw a coin into the wishing well that is the future.

And then the day came. A day of wonder that could only happen in a future so far removed from what you could understand of the present, that to you it was just so much science fiction. They rebuild you, all of you, from the flawed respiratory system that has been the cause of countless childhood deaths by choking on food, to the human eye, a camera so complex as to stagger belief, yet made out of such simple materials as jelly and water. And as the last layers of epidermis form, and hair – wet from the chemical solution your second birth takes place in – starts to colour, the signals are bundled up from your old brain, and prepared to jump start your new head meat. You come around in fear for your life, already starting to swallow the liquid as the glass fronted door of the chamber opens automatically. Your body is unceremoniously dropped to the floor. A cold floor. hard tiles with someone else’s biological matter still staining them.

You enter the future alone, unsure what you’re doing there, and within seconds you’re vomiting onto the tiles like so many before you. It takes the assistant five minutes to notice the process has been completed, and by the time he walks into the room to look down at your naked vomit stained form – thinking about what he would do to you if the activities in this room weren’t recorded – you’ve gone into a mild shock. A grey and brown dressing gown is dropped around your shoulders as you’re asked questions to jog your memory. You answer as well as you can whilst pulling it around yourself, using the edges to wipe yourself clean as you speak, your mind beginning to come to terms with what’s happened. You’re told there’s a taxi waiting outside to take you to a hostel, that your money will be refunded in line with inflation, but without interest. They would never be able to work that out…

All these things make sense to you. Words and concepts that make you feel secure. ‘Just how different could the world be’, you think as you close your eyes and breath out as the front door is opened for you, ready to breathe in the future. Eyes closed tightly, waiting to open to allow you to take in the sites so few people from your time would ever get to experience.

The sights, smells, and sounds are now only remembered as a cacophony. The werewolf having sex with a Chinese business man. The child with half the skin on her face apparently scraped off sat watching a TV screen in the sidewalk. You think the show was called ‘Sex Puppets’, but that can’t be right. The guy with a floating digital camera behind his head talking to a women eating what was clearly the cooked arm of an Afro-Caribbean child. The adverts for Ebola-Cola, for a U.S. President called the Beast, for an enclave where feudal japan is lived and relived while people from outside watch on. The police dog talking to a drug dealer.

You don’t remember the taxi journey at all. You barely remember the first month at the hostel apart from the beatings as every penny you had was taken from you by the gangs of veteran revivals who have banded together to pray on the weak. You were lucky you recovered quickly, before you were put out on the street for business. You found a few other lost souls, all wearing someone else’s cast off clothing who no longer whimpered themselves to sleep every night. With nothing else to do, you shared stories of the time you came from, fighting back the influence of this future that seems so wrong. The only thing you seem to have in common is the time you came from. But that association is enough to keep the gangs away, to give you breathing space to take stock, and maybe, just maybe, find your place in this future.