Because of its recent inclusion in a Bundle of Holding, it seems an apropos time to talk about Brave New World, perhaps the first RPG ever to be unfairly scuttled by the Internet.
BNW eschewed the "everything and the kitchen sink" approach of prior superhero RPGs, most of which were aping the bizarre, unplanned conglomerations called the Marvel and DC universes. Just thinking through how the Marvel and DC universes happened (mergers! soft reboots! hard reboots! office coups! lawsuits!) should have been a huge warning sign to RPGs that maybe this was not the needle we wanted to try to thread. But okay, we wanted to know whether Superman or the Hulk was the strongest, and hadn't noticed that the answer to that question depended on the dramatic needs of the comic book creators instead of a beep boop computer analysis of how many pascals are exerted by a Hulk punch. The result was Champions and its successors, which I regard with the kind of reverence reserved only for the accomplishments of mad geniuses.
But even the independent superhero RPGs, for the most part, didn't pursue an independent setting capable of standing on their own two feet. Instead, they leaned on existing comics and tried to pursue their aesthetics instead of their own. The exceptions started to hit at the end of the late 90s. In 1999 we got two big ones: Aberrant, White Wolf's deconstruction of superheroes, starring superpowered wrestlers, religious figures, and superspies, all with lovingly detailed haircuts and sunglasses, and Brave New World. I'll defend White Wolf stuff all day and all night but in this matchup, Brave New World wins walking away.
The premise of Brave New World, as implied by its literary-reference name, is that America (and much of the rest of the world) exists in an alternate 1999 as a totalitarian police state. A great deal of effort is put into grounding this in reality; how do people live in such circumstances? How do they accommodate themselves mentally to it? How do people come to support a police state in large or small ways? And how do they resist, in large or small ways? The need for the police state, naturally, is the emergence of superpowered beings, extremely powerful in the WW2 generation, and somewhat less so by 1999. Some of these beings are more or less leashed thugs working for the government; others are rebels trying to expose the truth and tear it down. Propaganda urges non-powered people to hate and fear powered people, and they do. The X-Men rarely gave us this kind of detail even when they remembered that humans hated mutants (which they often forgot).
There were two elements of the game that the Internet (at the time, primarily Usenet), responded to negatively. Bizarrely, they identified two of the best elements of the game as deal-breaking flaws.
First, in Brave New World, you can't just be any sort of superhero you want. Character - both player characters and non-player characters - powers fit into established categories. The super-strong person, the super-fast person, the psychic, and so on. This has numerous advantages: it makes character creation faster and easier, it makes tactical decisionmaking in fights faster and more reliable ("that guy's super strong, therefore I don't have to worry that he's going to take over my mind") and it encourages players to come up with new cool ways to use an established power versus ceding the field to someone who happened to toss a few points into the right ability, or feeling that because they didn't, they can't. The fact that the system smoothly utilizes power stunts within the options for using these limited powers multiplies this advantage - you can see how to make a power stunt and what they should be like.
The Internet absolutely freaked about this. After so many years of being told "you can do whateeeeever you waaaaant" without noticing that this produced a ton of shitty, boring character building before you got good at it, and impeded quickly getting into play, the idea that you couldn't be Dr. Strange with Weirdly Undefined Abilities was just beyond their comprehension. "Incomplete" was a word thrown around. Ugh.
The second thing that BNW did well that the Internet freaked about was not say anything about the "origins" of the superpowers that spread across the world. There was some implication they would be handled in later supplements. but of course by 1999 we had all forgotten what the word "supplement" meant and assumed that if something was bad in a supplement that it would be bad in all games around the world forever. In practice, BNW's decision to withhold this information worked because everyone assumed the evil government had it in a computer somewhere, or that they were undertaking evil experiments to GET it in a computer that had to be stopped. It became actionable primarily in response to villainous undertakings, which of course, is what superheroism actually is.
It seems like when we talk about our RPGs, we often measure them by what we already think a RPG should be, instead of what the RPG actually is. We take our prior experience as the center of RPG play and regard games that don't support that experience as deviations from the norm. Perhaps the better way to handle ourselves is to try to take each RPG from zero. Brave New World can't "do" the X-Men - christ, about 73 percent of the time, Marvel Comics can't. But that's not what Brave New World is. It's not a comic book, nor a simulator of a comic book world - it's a superhero RPG, and a damn good one.
All in all, Brave New World was a tremendous experience. The high stakes of being a superpowered rebel and trying to keep your identity secret created a heightened environment for throwing a car at a guy shooting lasers. It is one of my all time favorite superhero RPGs and I'm psyched that the Bundle of Holding might bring it to a new audience. I definitely encourage picking it up!
This, the last sourcebook published for Brave New World, takes the story back to the Second World War, a time when deltas fought proudly for their nation and were hailed as heroes. It provides a spring-board for running adventures in such exciting times.
Starting, as usual, with an extensive in-character section, there's a change here... presentation is in the style of a news magazine as of course there was no World Wide Web to provide the webpage format of earlier volumes. It's written - as is the entire game - from an American standpoint, and describes the development of the Delta Squadron into which the reader is assumed to have enlisted (or been drafted), being set in 1942 after America has entered the war.
At this time the Delta Squadron is active in three places - the UK, North Africa and the Pacific. There's plenty of material about who is where and what is going on, and - apart from the presence of deltas - it all sticks pretty closely to the real-world version of WW2. They also have a spectacular main base, a flying aircraft carrier.
While the mores of the time meant that female deltas were restricted in the roles they could occupy in Delta Squadron (although they were at least allowed to enlist in it), others preferred to take on other roles such as the Ladies of Liberty - a group of female deltas who maintained law and order on the home front whilst others who'd been vigilantes were away at war. They seem adept at catching spies, too.
Amongst the discourse on what is going on home and abroad, the astute Guide can spot plenty of potential adventures to weave into a campaign wherever it is based. Naturally, the Axis forces have also cottoned on to the concept of recruiting deltas to their cause and so there is some information here about them and what they have been doing. Likewise, the Allies have their own delta organisations - people that the party may wish to work alongside or (especially if your players are not Americans) they may prefer to join.
The out-of-character section begins by detailing how to create deltas suitable for military service, including ten new power packages designed with warfare in mind - although they could equally well be used by contemporary deltas. Each comes with a ready-to-use archetype, who can be played as is or used as inspiration for your own character with that particular power package. Availability and cost of equipment and the military life are covered here as well.
Next comes a chapter on gadgets. There's an almost steam-punk element here, melding 1940s technology with fantastical ideas. The gadgets described range from aerial carriers to communications gear, jetbikes and the 'tank suit' (think mecha), all with a focus on warfare, of course.
Then Chapter 3 looks at new combat rules, designed to accommodate all-out war rather than the one-on-one or small group brawls previously covered in the rules. Vehicle combat (taking the term 'vehicle' loosely - anything from tanks to planes to submarines is included), chases, anti-aircraft fire, torpedoes, and a range of new weapons familiar to the battlefield but less common amongst superheroes are to be found here.
Then the Guide's Handbook section starts with a lot of advice on running a Glory Days campaign. It's quite different from the standard Brave New World one although there are plenty of similarities too. There's scope for a wide range of adventure types and plenty of information to help you make the most of them. There is also some good advice on taking your game forwards from 1942, which bits of real-world history to include, and how to weave in the superpowered elements to form a coherent whole. There are a lot of profiles of regular and superpowered individuals from both sides, and a complete adventure to get you started. It's set in North Africa and would work well as a one-off adventure if you are unsure of whether or not you want to play a full-blown World War Two campaign, or of course it could be used as an exciting start to one...
The Author's Afterword concentrates on two points, his admitted lack of specialist knowledge about WW2 and the need to understand how awful war really is, however much fun it can be to game. This latter point is one your own group needs to be clear on, should you decide to run Glory Days - and some groups may find it a subject not to their liking.
Overall, this is a skillful and exciting blend of fact and fantasy which, provided you don't mind meddling with history and don't think it belittles the true sacrifices made by those who have fought in real wars, should make for a memorable campaign.
Continuing the detailed analysis of the different factions present in the Brave New World setting, this book looks at The Covenant, the organisation set up by the Catholic Church in response to the delta issue.
As usual the first half of the book is devoted to detailed in-character information delivered in a web-page format (well, as near as you can on paper, anyway!), narrated by a priest who is also a delta. He starts off by introducing himself and tells of how he became first priest and then a delta. He then proceeds to the history of the Covenant and explores the ways in which people become members thereof, before talking about their sacred mission and discussing the structure and organisation under which they work.
Viewing their delta powers as gifts from God, Covenant deltas are saints in the making. You see, to become a saint you need to work miracles and be a virtuous person. Delta powers are pretty miraculous, so all they need to work on is their virtue... and then wait to be dead, the third requirement for sainthood! Those Catholics who are not in holy orders when they become deltas are fast-tracked into being at least a monk or nun when they join the Covenant.
Oh, and we are introduced to vampires who are, you guessed it, another particularly malign form of delta. They show all the classic signs of vampirism, though, and can be dealt with by sunlight, holy symbols, garlic, etc.
One good thing is the way in which theological debate has been woven through the account, the writer of the webpages did say that he'd studied under Jesuit teachers and it comes over well!
The mainstream Covenant works in accord with the American government, members not being required to register and serve in the same way as other deltas - something that causes a deal of resentment amongst deltas of other faiths. There's been a schism, too, within the ranks with some siding (openly or otherwise) with Defiance or at least going their own way... and yet the Covenant itself is covertly in favour of Defiance, or at least opposed to the martial rule and other measures promulgated by President Kennedy... and in time, fell out with the Kennedy administration and became outlawed, their privileges revoked.
The player section looks at what's needed to build a Covenant character. There's an array of special weapons that they can use, and a whistlestop tour of Catholic belief for players who don't know anything about it. There are two orders connected with the Covenant, with different approaches (and styles of dress). And then we come to the power package, which is basically the same for everyone who becomes a Covenant delta and are based around faith and traditions. This section ends with several archetypes.
The Guide's Handbook section, as always, gives the lowdown on what's really happening in the Covenant, and also includes a full adventure called 'For Goodness Sake' as well as some opposition such as the stats for vampires.
The Author's Afterword lets the cat out of the bag: he himself was raised Catholic. This leads to an interesting discussion of the relationship between religion and role-playing. (And here I too confess: I am both Christian and a role-player... not Catholic, though, I'm a Mormon.)
This is an excellent book with plenty of material to spawn ideas for your game. Indeed, when the local group first started playing Brave New World, my character was a 'tent evanglist' whose delta powers involved healing... and he too was convinced that they came from God!
Evil Unlimited? These unabashed villains are an association of deltas who have chosen to put their powers to use for personal gain... and never mind anyone else. A bunch of criminals in other words, although they claim to be mere service providers, facilitators. Now, that's the sort of 'opposition' that you'd normally expect in a superhero game, but as you'll already have seen in Brave New World things are a little bit different. As a delta you either cooperate with an oppressive government or go 'rogue' in some way, as a dissident with Defiance or as an out-and-out villain... or just keep your head down and pretend you're normal, but there's not much of a game in that!
Presented in the standard format of a wealth of in-character material presented as a series of web pages, this time we have landed on the website of Evil Unlimited. They seem to be a sort of organised crime organisation, with a hierarchy and even the concept of earning a paycheque for your villany... Their stated mission is to perform extralegal services at a premium price. They even claim that they won't do assassinations. Hmmm.
These pages, aimed at new recruits into Evil Unlimited, cover the history and philosophy of the organisation, the sort of jobs they take on (including examples of recent or current ones) and some of the major players in the group. Fascinating stuff. Many, if not most, of their agents are freelancers, with only a few of the most trusted becoming full-time employees. You may decide to have the characters pick up the occasional job to make ends meet, or to encounter them on one side or another in whatever incident they're engaged in. There's plenty of scope. Even if you've gone the Delta Prime route, Evil Unlimited ranks high on the Primers' most wanted lists.
The out-of-character material presents some new power packages particularly suited to a life on the wrong side of the law, complete with archetype examples for each one. One of them is a werewolf, the others include forgers, smugglers and even a poisoner package.
The Guide's Handbook section reveals what is really going on within Evil Unlimited, as well as providing a wealth of advice about how to sucker the characters into working for them. There are a few bad guys to meet as well.
Next comes an adventure involving Evil Unlimited all ready to be run. "Evil Is As Evil Does" can be used to introduce characters to the organisation or to embroil them more deeply with it, as suits, and ostensibly involves rescuing a newly-found delta from a transport taking him to New Alcatraz. Naturally, there's a little bit more to it than that...
Finally, the Author's Afterword chats about what inspired the Evil Unlimited concept and how to use it to advantage in your game, as well as a few meanderings about what other projects he's engaged in.
Overall, a fun work with ample potential to put a distinctive spin on your game.
Crescent City, built on the ruins of what we know as Chicago, is the default 'home town' of the Brave New World game setting, and this book sets out to inform characters about the place in which they live through the by-now familiar format of an extensive series of in-character web pages.
If you want to base your game in Crescent City, or at least have the characters visit there, this is a useful resource... even if the authors of the webpages have the exact breezy, chatty tone as the writers of all the other webpages in other books in the series. Must be a style taught in the leading web writing schools across the Brave New World, I guess! Never mind, let's see what they have to say.
It's a lot more than a street map or a gazetteer. In fact there are only a few wide-area maps tucked away in the back of the book, unless you count a plan of New Alcatraz. There's history, starting with the battle that destroyed Chicago (and what brought that about, a quite tragic tale of revenge) and how the city that's there now grew out of the very ashes, built by a single corporation and governed by an appointed mayor (as you might expect given the permanent state of martial rule that exists in America). There's plenty about the deltas who live there now - legally and otherwise - from the Delta Prime HQ to a hotbed of Defiance supporters and even the gaol of New Alcatraz in the middle of the lake that has been specially built to hold criminal deltas.
Next comes an area by area description of the city, with a wealth of background to make it come to life... and, if you're the Guide, to spawn plot ideas just about whatever manner of game you intend to run. Lots of people who might interact with the party, hire them or oppose them, places to visit and so on. Some maps would have been nice, but if you need them and have the time, the descriptions are enough to come up with at least a rough sketch of the lay of the land.
Then comes the player material, with a selection of new power packages. These are all linked in some way to living in Crescent City (although most if not all could be used elsewhere). Each comes with an archetype to use as-is or provide inspiration for your own character taking that power package.
The Guide section, after remarking that the Guide is welcome, indeed encouraged, to stamp their own mark on Crescent City, then as usual lifts the lid on what has gone before and tells it like it is. There are quite a few Crescent City based adversaries to throw at the characters too.
This is followed by 'The Teleterrorists' which is an adventure set in Crescent City ready for you to run. It's designed as an introduction to the City as well, so would suit a party arriving from elsewhere or as the start of a new game. As a result, there's plenty going on and it gives the characters a good chance to get embedded into the place quickly... with the climax occurring at a game of deltaball (American Football for the superpowered).
Finally, the Author's Afterword contains snippets of personal information and explains that since the move to AEG he's not writing every word himself but getting contributions, particularly in the shape of well-defined profiles and stat blocks for NPCs (which he doesn't like writing much!).
Overall a very useful tome if you intend your game to visit or be set in Crescent City, as well as the first actual scenario to play.
This book sets out to explain a different path, for characters who want power but without becoming a standard delta. They are the bargainers, magic-users of the Brave New World if you like, doing their thing by making pacts, bargains, with spirits. Generally not very nice ones. The process starts pretty much like becoming a delta, surviving a near-death harrowing experience, only the character does not become a delta. They start hearing voices instead...
The first part of the book delivers in-character information in the form of a series of web pages, these ones written by a Mister Twist for beginning Bargainers explaining to them just what their new-found powers might be. Dealing with demons, basically. There's all manner of background material, the long history of how the demons came to be and how they interact with mere mortals, deltas though they might be. It creates a mythology all of its own, which may not sit too well with players who have religious beliefs - just sit back and remember that this is a game, or decide that you won't play a Bargainer or even have them in your game if you feel this is all too offensive to your faith. This cosmology posits a Heaven and a Hell, each with inhabitants, and it is the Demons from Hell that Bargainers associate with.
The first true bargainer, it's said, was Houdini. There's a fair bit of background on him, and then we get down to the nitty-gritty of how to make a deal with a demon and the basic ground rules that you should adhere to for your own safety and sanity. There's also plenty on bargainer society and support, the folks a new bargainer will associate with and learn from. The main means of communication for these quite solitary types is a mailing list and an annual convention.
Bargainers have enemies too, not just the government and Delta Prime, but the Covenant (representing Christian belief) and even devil-worshippers. They can cause quite a nuisance of themselves, even before they manage to make contact with a real demon... and then there's the Heavenly Host, the angels themselves. And other magic-users like shamans and practicioners of voodoo.
Eventually we emerge into game mechanics with a chapter Bargains and Bargainers, which takes all this in-character material and shows you how to make it work in game terms. There are six bargainer archetypes to use as is or as inspiration for your own character, and a wealth of other material as well. Bargainers gain access to some actual magic spells, you see, and these are laid out for you here.
The Guide's Handbook section follows, and as usual promises to reveal the truth of the matter. Along with that, it explains how to take the demon's part in a bargain and presents a host of appropriate adversaries.
Finally, the Author's Afterword explains how Brave New World is by no means a standard superhero game, and reveals a little about how his vision for it hangs together.
Are bargainers optional? They certainly do not need to play a large role, but if they are not there, somewhere in the background, your game will be the poorer for their absence.
The first three books for Brave New World have concentrated on those superpowered individuals or 'deltas' who have chosen a path of freedom if not rebellion, refusing to comply with fairly oppressive government regulations regarding superpowers. But what of the law-abiding? This work looks at the other side, those who register and serve in Delta Prime. Of course, if your game is based on Defiance, this will inform you about 'the enemy' instead and provide the Guide (GM) with a never-ending array of well-rounded opponents.
We start, as usual, on an in-character website - but this time it's the official government one, not the DeltaTimes. Oddly, the 'voice' of the writer sounds remarkably similar, although it's supposed to be that of a law-abiding delta called Charge. After giving some personal details, it's on to the history of Delta Prime - the federal law enforcement agency staffed by deltas and designed to deal with rogue ones. Their present mission, joining up and training and more follow, all in an engaging style that is readable as well as informative. Given that it's presented as a public website, this is material that can be accessed by any player, whither or not he intends his character to join Delta Prime.
This is followed by a collection of new power packages, this time aimed at members of Delta Prime. There are also new quirks - the different ranks in the organisation - and notes on Delta Prime equipment. Each new power package comes with a ready-made archetype to use directly or as inspiration for your own character.
Next is something a bit new, a chapter on Gadgets and Gadgeteers. This explores concepts introduced in the core rulebook in more depth, including the introduction of a system for gadget creation as well as a selection of ready-made ones that you might care to try out.
The Guide's Handbook section then, as usual, lifts the curtain and explains what is really happening, as opposed to what has been said in the in-character section at the front of the book. There's a collection of new adversaries and the Author's Afterword as well. In this last, Forbeck talks about moving from Pinnacle Games (the original publisher of the Brave New World line to the Alderac Entertainment Group.
This book offers more options, particularly that of being a law-abiding citizen... yet paints it in such an unattractive light that it's clear that even characters who originally start out that way will end up Defiant in the end! Still, it is good to gain an understanding of what's going on within Delta Prime, and there can always be some crossover with defections and moles if that suits your style.
As is becoming established pattern, this book begins with a substantial chunk of in-character pages from the DeltaTimes website. As that's pretty much the mouthpiece for the Defiance organisation, it is extremely relevant in this case!
This time, we're looking at a secure area reserved for those within the Defiance movement, or at least seriously interested in joining it. There's plenty here from history (told with a decidedly anti-establishment slant, of course) to opinion pieces from several leading members of the movement. If your game is, as the original intention seems to be, about deltas who have chosen to stand against the government, it's essential reading. For a start, it is by no means a coherent movement, Defiance is a loose aggregation of deltas linked only by the determination not to register their powers with the government as the law requires. Some are happy to leave it at that, others want to campaign against the way deltas are treated, and there are plenty of other points of view as well. If you'll be playing deltas in Defiance, you'll have to decide what you want to do, choosing one of these paths or carving out your own. If political games intrigue you, you could even base the game around the interplay between various factions within Defiance!
The bulk of the book consists of this in-character material (and fascinating reading it makes, too) but eventually we reach Chapter 1: New Power Packages. Here there are several new power packages, mostly related to different Defiance factions and useful if that's what you are going to play. Archetypes are provided for each one, as usual.
The final section is The Guide's Handbook, intended for the Guide's eyes only. Chapter 2: The Truth of the Matter lays out what's really going on behind the in-character stuff presented earlier as well as a lot more detail on the different Defiance factions. Some of them may be as much of a problem for the characters as the government forces are! Indeed, some are presented as adversaries. And there's an even more secret and hidden corner of the DeltaTimes website that reveals a few truths hidden even from most of Defiance. The section ends with the Author's Afterword, which includes errata for the first two books as well as the comment that following books will be even less rules and more about unravelling this Brave New World and helping you to find your character's place within it.
Another good read, even if it is a bit frustrating how everything comes out piecemeal. It is good, however, to see such a coherent vision of a game world and to be able to explore it so thoroughly.
This, the Player's Guide for Brave New World, opens with in-character material from the 'DeltaTimes' underground website, setting the scene for the alternate now in which the characters live. It starts where the comic strip that opened the core rulebook left off: the capture of a delta called Patriot who'd been a leading light in Defiance, the dissident organisation opposed to the current state of affairs in America and especially the policies concerning deltas, as superpowered individuals are known in this game. This is followed by Patriot's autobiography which gives a good flavour of the recent history that leads up to the present day. It's a good tale, well told, and ought to give players enough of a feel to know which side - government, Defiance, the Mob, independent operator - they'd like their characters to be on. The clear implication, though, is that all right-thinking deltas will join Defiance.
Next, and still as pages from an in-character website, Crescent City is described. This is the base setting for the game, a city that arose on the ruins of what was Chicago. It covers the city layout, government, police and other things anyone living there needs to know about... notable buildings, public transportation, even a few locals. A city plan would have helped, though.
If you'd rather go further afield, the next section looks at the United States of America as a whole. This section (and we're still reading web pages!) is very city-oriented, but gives a run-down on the current state of affairs in the major cities that even non-Americans can probably name. It ends with an overview of the general state of the union and the sort of people you'll find there.
Next, we stray - still on that website, DeltaTimes - even further afield into A World of Hurt. Everything's been about America so far, here we can read about how the rest of the world is faring. It's a motley summary of various parts of the world in roughly alphabetical order and again biased towards cities in each country described. Deltas are urban animals it appears.
This flavour text, informative and enjoyable, fills over half the book - so it's a bit of a surprise to find Chapter 1: New Power Packages on page 109 of a 160-page book. A pleasant surprise, however, especially if you are finding yourself a bit limited by the selection of packages provided in the core rulebook. It also introduces the Covenant, a delta organisation run by the Roman Catholic Church, and the Schism - renegade Catholics and others, Christian and non-Christian alike - who have shied away from Church teaching regarding deltas and the world as it is today. This of course gives plenty more options for what sort of character you want to play and the adventures he might become embroiled in. There's plenty of detail if fighting the good fight takes your fancy and you want to involve Covenant characters in your game. They have some interesting powers exclusively available to them, based on 'faith' and with interesting names that mean more if you know a little about Christian heritage. If religion's not your thing, though, there are quite a few more general power packages available to any delta. This section ends with some archetypes for the new power packages, and a selection of dramatic artwork illustrating various events and concepts touched upon earlier.
Next, we come to the Guide's Handbook and Chapter 2: The Truth of the Matter. This lifts the curtain on all that has come before, presenting the 'truth' for the game master's eyes only. It is a bit dogmatic about what really happened, but whilst it is open to individual Guides to decide what's true and what's not in their game, it may make the following supplements less easy to incorporate. And there's enough comments about not being ready to reveal certain bits of information just yet to make you - if you like consistent game worlds - want to get hold of them.
Finally there's a Author's Afterword. This talks about the underlying concepts and inspirations for the game, and is again quite interesting especially if you are interested in how a game designer's mind works.
Overall, this is a good 'setting' book that will help everyone in a group get to grips with what the alternate reality that they'll be inhabiting is like.
The book opens with a comic strip showing a young girl, newly into 'delta' powers, fleeing pursuit and being rescued, a process that rapidly descends into a brawl in which she's by no means sure who is on her side - aptly setting the scene for a game which melds alternate history and comic book superheroics into a fascinating if grim reality in which America is no longer the 'Land of the Free'... at least, not if you have superpowers.
Still in character, this moves on to facsimile web pages of an underground site called DeltaTimes, a place for those superpowered individuals who do not wish to cooperate with a fascist state to hang out. Taking the premise that the readers are newly come into their superpowers and are trying to figure everything out, the articles here give a lowdown (accurate as far as the game goes, if anarchistic in approach) about what it means to be a 'delta' or superpowered individual in this setting. So an excellent and immersive introduction to an alternate history that begins with the first delta arising on the battlefields of the First World War, superheroes flourishing during the interwar years, World War 2 being quite different with superhero involvement from the get-go, McCarthy chasing deltas as avidly as he did Communists, and finally a new twist on the 1963 Kennedy assassination where JFK survived but his wife did not, leading to repressive laws requiring deltas to register and cooperate with government... and worse, as subsequently Kennedy declared martial rule and continued to govern as a dictator to the present day.
Chapter 1: What You Need to Know cracks the fourth wall with the usual information about what a role-playing game is and how you play one. It's written in a casual style that explains the basics without sounding patronising. It also covers the roles of playing and Guide (the Game Master ) and says that only d6s are used... but a whole bunch of them.
Next comes Chapter 2: What It Takes to be a Hero. This deals with character creation, and takes you through the process in a logical manner, highlighting the need to know who your character is and what makes him tick as he is more than numbers on a page... but those numbers are important so it explains what they all are by reference to the character sheet. Characters are described in game mechanical terms by traits, skills, quirks and powers. Traits are the basic statistics of smarts, speed, spirit and strength. Human average in these is 2, but as you can imagine deltas often exceed that... the number assigned is the number of dice you roll when using that trait. Each trait has a number of skills - things you've actually learned or been trained in - associated with them. Quirks are the little things that bring a character to life, and powers are - as you might imagine - whatever superpowers your character has. OK, all that explained we then get down to the fine detail of how you actually make a character. Two options are presented: use an archetype or build one from scratch. If you are new to the game or in a rush, using an archetype gets you started with a minimum of fuss as all the number-crunching and selections have been done for you. Building one from scratch lets you have a delta that's really yours, even if it takes longer.
If you are building your own character, you start by distributing Trait Points as you please between the four traits. You have 12 to play with, enough to have an above-average 3 in each... or you may wish to boost one or more at the expense of the others. For every point assigned to a trait, you have 3 points to spend on skills associated with that trait. Quirks can be positive or negative: a positive one costs you points you might have spent on skills whilst a negative one gives you extra points... or you may prefer to balance out positive and negative quirks instead. There's a limit of 10 points-worth of negative quirks for playability reasons, but you can have as many positive ones as you are prepared to pay for! Next you pick superpowers which are organised in bundles called packages to give some coherence, rather than just selecting a random assortment of cool powers that do not really fit together. This all explained, there's a two-page quick reference guide to the process. A blank character sheet and a selection of archetypes are followed by several chapters that present skills, quirks, powers and tricks - signature knacks your character has - in great detail.
Next, Chapter 3: The Basic Mechanic, lays out in detail the core game mechanics. Task resolution is based around a single roll, the number of dice used being based on character capabilities, against a target number set by the Guide or an opponent as applicable. The target number gets higher the harder the task is deemed to be to accomplish. It's all quite straightforward, although it places a lot of responsibility on the Guide to set realistic yet achievable targets in order to present sufficient challenge yet keep the story rolling.
The next chapter goes into considerable detail about the skills available, including how to use them and likely target numbers for common uses of each skill. This is followed by a chapter on quirks and how to use them to present a well-rounded character - there's plenty of material here to empower good role-play, although contributions to game mechanics are also signposted clearly.
Then Chapter 6: The Big Throwdown takes a look at combat within the game. It's interesting that this comes before superpowers, but this section looks at the mechanics of brawling - initiatives, combat rounds, actions and so on - rather than every last thing that you might do during a fight, so if you pick a power package that has elements which are useful for brawling (or even designed for doing harm) you will be able to see how and when you will be able to use them within the context of the combat mechanics. Other ways to get hurt and healing are also covered here.
This is followed by Chapter 7: Tricks of the Trade, which explores a wide array of tricks - special things that you can do if you get a LOT of successes on your roll, well in excess of the target number you were aiming at. Here's the opportunity to be spectacular and cinematic. Characters start out knowing three tricks, and can acquire more later on in the game. Most tricks are related to a particular skill, so can only be used when you have that skill and are doing something which utilises it, but there are others which are more general in application as well as ones which, although associated with a particular skill, can be taken and used even if you have not been trained in that skill.
And now at last we get to the really important bit - Chapter 8: What Makes a Delta a Delta. Here superpowers are discussed, and you get to find out what power packages are available. Up til now, everything can be applied equally to a regular human being as to a superpowered one, which is good on two points. Firstly, it shows that deltas are no different from anyone else except as regards their powers, and secondly it ensures that all characters are well-rounded PEOPLE, not a set of powers with a mere glimmering of personality tacked on! It also makes it easy, if you wanted to, to play a regular human - perhaps one which might develop powers later in the game or who works with deltas helping to keep them safe from malign forces in government or elsewhere. There are notes on how to develop your own power packages and the promise that there will be more available in supplements, but the main thrust here is a detailed analysis of the options available.
We're almost ready to go, but Chapter 9: Things Every Hero Needs ensures that characters have all the equipment and other possessions that they need. Costs are based on real-world prices for everything that actually exists, which makes it easy if your character wants something not listed here.
The final part of the player section is Chapter 10: Liberty or Death. This is concerned with the setting and how it relates to characters who are deltas. Scene set, we move on to GM territory, taking the view that people will only ever play or GM this game. Obviously you can only do one at a time, but in many groups people take turns to run the next game so it is difficult to be hard and fast about GM knowledge. This section, however, covers how to organise and run your game rather than revealing any dark secrets, although the next two chapters do reveal things that characters would not know (at least, not when they start out...). The main secret's a biggie... but you'll have to find it out for yourself! There's also some bad guys and other NPCs to round things off.
Overall, it's a fascinating premise repleat with potential, setting and mechanics rolled up into a tidy package that is well suited to those who would like a superhero game with a difference, a core purpose beyond beating up on any passing supervillain.
I picked up an ebook of one of Matt Forbeck’s recent 12-for-12 novels that he funded through Kickstarter last year, titled Dangerous Games: How to Play and let me tell you, I think that this is poised to become the gamer holiday classic we’ve been waiting for.
The premise is simple: ’twas the eve before Gen Con and all through Indianapolis…well, you get the picture. It’s the Wednesday night before Gen Con kicks off officially and a well known game designer is found dead. When it’s clearly a murder, industry hopeful and recent graduate of police academy, Liam Parker, is called in by the convention organizers to serve as a liason to the police and help crack the case. Though it’s the first in a series, the book very much stands alone…and will make you want to keep reading the rest.
The plot is a little silly—at times there are some very geeky jokes and case connections that only a gamer would pick up, but more importantly it’s a fun read. Forbeck perfectly captures the Gen Con experience, from piling into the hotel with suitcases full of games and waiting in line for that must-have new release to the late night shenanigans and the overwhelming feeling of stepping into the convention hall for the first time. Last year was my very first Gen Con, so the memories were still very fresh in my brain, but the descriptions of Liam’s first encounter with the massive event were enough to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside…you know, despite the whole chain-of-murders thing.
One thing that struck me as rather odd toward the beginning, however, was getting used to seeing the names of real people show up in the text. Right away we’re introduced to folks like Matt Forbeck (yes, the author himself,) Kenneth Hite, Lisa Stevens, Robin Laws, and so on. On one hand, it was fun to laugh at the descriptions of people I knew, on the other—the story is fiction, and the lack of fictitious characters was jarring at first. Not to mention the fact that the main character is fictional, it left a strange feeling of curiosity as I considered what was real and what wasn’t.
The book also does start out with a small amount of game jargon—if you aren’t familiar with some game design terms, you might be a little confused as to what Liam Parker’s new game is about, but that passes quickly and it’s easy enough to fall in step with the story. Another interesting aspect to this is how the fictional counterparts to real life game designers are full of actual, good advice for aspiring industry professionals. Notably, at times it feels like we’re beaten over the head with the reminder that game designers aren’t paid very well, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does often walk the line between a recurring joke and a somber reminder of what game design is really like.
As always, Forbeck’s writing is very engaging and well paced, with a detailed setting that shows his experience with worldbuilding and game design, even in a book that is set in a world unlike our own. Not only did he capture the Gen Con spirit perfectly, but has a fun, engaging story that keeps you guessing and interested at every turn. Whether you’re a Gen Con veteran or only dream of setting foot at a gaming convention, it’s a great, quick read for anyone with a love for gaming. I have no doubt that it will quickly become a must read around convention season, and I know I’ll probably be picking it up again next year when the mood strikes and I get that Gen Con excitement all over again.
Since this is also the first in a series, I’m looking forward to reading the rest. While the first was certainly wrapped up well, I love the idea of returning to Liam Parker’s version of Gen Con…though I might save the sequel for after this year’s convention, to help recover from the woe of returning to the real world!
If you’ve read Dangerous Games: How To Play, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Likewise, if you’d like to check it out for yourself, you can find a Kindle edition on Amazon for $4.99, or visit our friends over at DriveThruFiction for a multi-format digital bundle (also $4.99) or a hard copy, if you prefer keeping it on the shelf.
I really recommend this book to anyone who’s a fan of gaming, conventions, or anything even kind of like that. Reading it really made me feel like a kid again, reading books about summer camp in the weeks leading up to my own trip…except, again, aside from the whole chain-of-murders thing.
See you in Indianapolis—either in real life or between the pages of Dangerous Games: How to Play!
Told in an engaging first person style this is a light-hearted yet taut murder mystery notable for two things: it's set at a role-playing convention (Gen Con, no less) and within the first page the author turns up as a character whom the narrator meets! Don't think I've seen that conceit very often...
It's got the flavour of a game convention, the gathering of like-minded souls, the meeting of people for whom gaming is their trade and those for whom it's just an obsession, the chatter... if you've ever been to a convention you will soon feel at home and probably half-recognise at least a few of the characters. In places its a bit self-indulgent, the 'in crowd' of names you've probably only seen on book covers, but it is written in such an engaging style that you feel a part of it. (Watch out next convention - the names you recognise here are not completely like this in real life!)
Oh. And most murders only happen in character in the gaming hall. Just thought I should mention that.
Fun. Fluff. Eminently readable. Something to curl up with and enjoy....
Overall, I'd have to say this is a pretty well made game. The system isn't the greatest I've seen and definitely not the most "statistically accurate" if you can call a system that. Basically, it's a pretty simple system resulting in a simple game. The reason this game stands a head above a lot of other games is simply because of the setting. This game is worth the money just for the first about 50 - 100 pages where it describes the setting, characters, and how everything happened. Also the last few pages deal with what is not revealed in the beginning, the secrets and is only for the GM to read. What makes this game great since the system is so simple, you could actual integrate your favorite system into this pretty flawlessly. All you'd have to do really is change a few feats around and the stats and your good to go. All in all, this game is worth the money just because the setting alone. It's a simple system which is fun, but also allows for an easy integration of another system with one of the best settings I've ever read.
I should probably start this review by saying I am a big fan of the Brave New World rpg, on which this material is based. That said, if you enjoyed the game (or at the very least the setting for it) then this book is an excellent addition to all of that material.
Detailing the events of Patriot's capture and the efforts of the Defiance to break him out of prison before he can be executed, it is told with a first person structure from multiple viewpoints that works reasonably well, and each chapter is titled with the name of the person you'll be sharing headspace with. The plot is well paced and keeps the story rocketing along at a pretty frenetic rate. There are few pauses in this novel and, really, you don't need any.
As part of Matt Forbeck's Brave New World trilogy (the first in his 12 for 12 series sets, where he writes 12 novels over the course of 2012) it is lots of fun and the end leaves plenty of room for Forbeck to continue his exploration of this world, including leaving the ending with a few questions still unanswered and the suggestion of plenty more to come...just like the rpg books did.
If you like the idea of people with superpowers, in a dystopian setting where Pressident Kennedy is one of the bad guys, and enjoy a no-holds barred romp of a story then you could do a lot worse than give this a try.