Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Speaking of RPG Objects....

Charles Rice, their main author, now has a blog

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Capes (very early outline)

Capes is a very unusual new role-playing game from Muse of Fire Studio, available through Indie Press Revolution. At first glance, it's a super-hero game, but in reality, it's almost a completely different sort of role-playing game. Role-playing games generally separate the game part from the role-playing. Capes actually makes a game out of the role-playing itself.

What do I mean? Well, in something like D&D, you roll up characters, make them according to strict rules, fight in combat, but when you actually interact with other characters, it's pretty much completely free-form, and usually banter between the GM and the player. Capes has elaborate rules for narrating the game itself. And has no gamemaster.

Actually, it's so different than most role-playing games, that some would probably argue it's more of a story-telling game. I wouldn't go that far, but I would say it's role-playing combined with poker. If not mechanically (there are some similarities), then in terms of feel.

So how does gameplay work, without a gamemaster? Well, it's part collaborative, part competition.

The first player starts off, describing the basic scenario or scene. Then people start divying up the characters present, starting with the first player selecting one, then with the person clockwise picking one and so on. Unlike most RPGs, characters in Capes are not necessarily owned by one player. And some players will pick villains or opponents to play as well.

Once all the players have characters (they may have 1 or more), the first person starts things. Off. Then again, in the same order that they picked the characters.

On their turn, a player can describe pretty much anything. However, he cannot resolve conflicts.

Like for instance, a player says "Mumbly Joe clobbers Buck Gordon". While he can describe that he attacks the other character, he cannot say that he beat him up or not. That has to be resolved through the game rules.

I can't really do it justice. It's something hard to grok unless you read an example of play - hopefully the author will put one up on the website.

Capes is something of a competitive game. This is generally not a good thing for roleplaying games, because people really like their characters, and tend to get annoyed and upset when they get screwed over by their fellow player (or GM). However, that doesn't happen here because of the "Gloating" rules.

See, whenever something happens where a major character would be killed or something like the world ending happens (ie, the Super-Villains diabolical plot suceeding), instead it actually doesn't, for whatever reason (the players have to come up with one), but the player who would have won, gets a reward in terms of story tokens.

While the rules themselves are aimed at super-hero gaming, I suspect they would work pretty well for most modern day things. Me, I'm not a much of a superhero fan, while I read comic book as a kid, they were generally Richie Rich, Scrooge McDuck/Huey/Dewey/Louie, and various "Weird" comics. So I'm not exactly an expert on the tropes of the genre, but I don't see anything that doesn't also apply to most TV shows or novels.

Characters are really easy to make. They basically have 12 abilities, rated from 1 to 5 (with 5 being better), in 3 categories - Powers (ie, Superpowers), Styles (how they do things) and Attitudes (basically their personality).

These abilities are essentially just very simply descriptions of what the character can do or what they are. For instance, "Flight" would be a power.

They are rated simply by prioritizing the abilities in a category. Say a character had 5 powers, 4 Styles, and 3 Attitudes. There be one power rated at 5, one at 4, one at 3, one at 2, one at 1. Then one style would be rated at 4, one at 3, one at 2, one at one. And of course, then one Attitude would be rated at 3, one at 2, one at 1.

The number of abilities in each category is not fixed (other than there being a max of 5), a character could have 4 in each, so in that case, each category would have one rated at 4, one at 3, one at 2, and one at 1.

Legends of Carthage - Semi Final

One of the somewhat neglected areas of d20 are real world historical sourcebooks. While Avalanche Press tried to cover this field, they spent all their money on hiring the artist for the cover, leaving very little left to spend on the rest of the product, resulting in very short, very ugly, very sparse books.

So those apparently didn't sell all that well, and Avalanche Press went out of the d20 business, leaving a void in the d20 field. There have been a few companies who have picked up the slack. Mongoose, with some of their OGL line of products (OGL Ancients, OGL Wild West, OGL Disco); Green Ronin, with their Mythic Vistas line; and RPGObjects, with their "Legends" line, which tends to be based more on the myths and legends, than actual history.

The first two main products are Legends of Excalibur (an Arthurian sourcebook) and Legends of the Samurai. Beyond those there is sort of a "mini" line, strictly PDF, which covers small areas that are possibly too small for a long book. This, Legends of Carthage, is the first in the series. It's pretty short, 11 pages total, 9 pages of actual content.

Basically, you get a 3 page overview of Carthage (mostly a timeline), a new core class, and stats and a writeup for 2 of the relevent people associated with Carthage. Scipio Africanus, who beyond having one of the coolest names ever, was a great Roman general who fought Carthage; and Mr. Carthage himself, Hannibal Barca, aka the original Elephant Man.

The descriptions of the two are pretty much what you expect. You even get a pictures of busts of them. Scipio actually looks a lot like the guy who played Methos on Highlander. Conversely, Hannibal is the one that looks like a 70s action hero, complete with sideburns.

The stats are a bit odd for the two. For Scipio, apparently the rules from Legend of Excalibur were used, as he is an 12th level Fighter/8th Level Noble (a class from that book). While probably fitting that he would be a Noble (or an Aristocrat), this means one of his special abilities is "Dispense Justice (Ex): You are considered a legal representative by the medieval system, authorized to administer justice, arbitrate disputes, and also to perform legal functions such as ordaining knights."

Which er, is a bit out of place (or time). Also, like in Legends of Excalibur, he's statted out with an array of magical items, including magical full plate. I'm not an expert on history, but did they have full plate then? This sort of stuff worked in LoE because it was meant to emulate the stories of Malory, which indeed did have magic armor and weapons and such and was somewhat ahistorical (ie, plate mail everywhere). Not quite the case of the Romans and Scipio.

Hannibal is pretty much statted up as a standard D&D character. A Fighter/Barbarian/Ranger. Complete with dual-wielding weapons. Which is not something I think of when I think Hannibal. His Intelligence score also seems somewhat low at 12. He was by most accounts, a military genius (if perhaps not as smart as he thought he was), so I would think at least 16-18 would be right.

While I realize it's for a competing product, I think it would have been cooler to have them statted up using the classes from OGL Ancients. (Which while set just before the rise of Rome, has pretty much the Carthaginian sort of feel).

The new core class, the Mercenary, is somewhere between a Fighter and a Barbarian. Has the Barbarian's hit dice and skill points per level, but completely different special abilities. Seems about right, which is to be expected from the author.

Very helpfully, there is a chart for standard Mercenaries from levels 1-20, so you can easily come up with a Mercenary NPC. While RPGObjects pretty much always does it, in general very few d20 products do this when they add a new core classes. Which makes it tougher for the GM to actually use the class for NPCs.

There's also a couple of new spells, though neither is likely to be used much by PCs. One curses a place (what the Romans did to Carthage after burning it down) and one that gives a character a bonus when they are trying to accomplish a sworn goal (meant to simulate Hannibal's vow to bring down the Roman Empire). The latter might be a bit unbalanced, as it can give essentially a lifetime (of the character) bonus to attack and skill rolls, depending on the nature of the goal. Though it does cost 500 XP, it seems like a bargain, at least in Hannibal's case, to get a +2 to his attack rolls against pretty much the only people he fought, the Romans.

While this is not a bad product, I think it's a bit off target. I would have liked to have seen more on Carthage itself. For instance, d20 style stats for Carthage. Maybe some domains and writeups for the Gods of Carthage, like Baal.

Or maybe a class based on Carthage. The Mercenary class, while solid, seems a bit generic. Yes, Carthage used a lot of them, but they also had a fairly unique culture, especially with regards to their religion (which apparently included mass child sacrifice). Since 2 great generals are statted up, perhaps there should have been a prestige class for generals?

Anyway, if it had been called "Power Class - Mercenary" or somesuch, it would be pretty good, but as a Carthage supplement, it's a bit off the mark. And of course, you can't even begin to do Carthage justice in 10 pages or so. C+