Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gencon SF RPG Roundup!

Hokay, chums! I went to Gencon and got stung by a bee on the way back. No, really! We were going down Lick Creek Rd in Morgantown, doing 45. I had my window down and I was reading Starblazer Adventures when all of a sudden something went SPLEKT! on my temple. I reached up and pulled off something that felt all buggy; on my second go I pulled back a stinger. Sure enough, there was a little pinhole on my face and the pain started. Weird, huh?

Anyway, I bought two SF games at Gencon. I haven't plunged into them absolutely, but I do have some very strong impressions of them. Would you like to know more?

Hey, let's start with Stablazer Adventures. DISCLAIMER: I contributed, in a roundabout way, to this book. This thing is HUGE. We're talking 600+ pages of FATE-based space opera adventure. It's extremely flexible, and it has plenty of ready-made stuff for you to go get into trouble with.

That said, I have some problems with it.

Well...maybe not problems. Just some headscratchy stuff. Starblazer, being a FATE game, uses Aspects -- brief descriptors that can be applied to just baout anything. Characters, places, equipment, even scenes can have Aspects. For example, your ship could have the Aspect "She'll do point five past lightspeed", while your character can have the Aspect "Never tell me the odds!" and a particularly dangerous scene can have the "I don't know...I've got a bad feeling about this..." Aspect. PCs have these assigned to them during chracter creation, which is done in Phases of life. Clever, and not really the problem.

The problem is in the mechanical applications of Aspects. The basic mechanic is this: if you are aware of an Aspect, you can "tag" it (at the cost of a Fate Point, a metagame resource like everything else called a 'fate point') and get an in-game bonus. For instance, if you, the PC, figure out that Lord Brasso of Mujibur IV is sensitive about his height, you can "tag" that Aspect to get..I dunno, say a +2 to intimidate him. So far that makes sense, but it's about to get weirder.

If you, the PC, are the cause of an Aspect that's applied to a character/thing/scene, then you get to "tag" it for free -- but everyone else who wants to "tag" it has to pay up. An example given in the book is that you are being pursued by bad guys, so you overturn a barrel of oil in their path. Now the floor has the "Slippery" Aspect, and you can use that for a bonus against your pursuers. But if Chewba- uh, one of your comrades wants to take advantage of the floor's slipperiness, which has already been established, he or she has to put in a Fate Point to do so.



There's a part of me which thinks about this and says, "So we get rules to adjudicate common sense?!" It seems kind of weird to me, kind of like we're over-codifying creativity and the experience of the game. But wait, there's more.

Every character has Skills, and those Skills are pretty broad. As such, you can refine them with Stunts, which are specific uses of your Skills. Maybe I have the Artist skill, but then also have the "Weight of Reputation" Stunt, which means that I can forget to shower for a month and then wear a Hooters t-shirt and a pair of hip-waders to dinner at Spago but no one jacks with me because Oh my god it's JACK LORD!!! This part makes sense.

Here's where it doesn't: First off, some Stunts have prerequisites. "Weight of Reputation" requires "Do You Know Who I Am?" which itself requires "Virtuoso". but, uh...what's stopping me from taking "Weight of Reputation" (or something with similar effect) as an Aspect? What's the difference between an Aspect and a Stunt? And why do I hafta pay to use your slippery floor?!

So this stuff kinda bugs me. Maybe it's the old-schooler in me, but remember, I was an early Theatrix adopter. Maybe it's just that this "tagging an Aspect" business seems somewhat superfluous to me. Not useless, not pointless, no -- again, I think it's clever. It's just that I also think it's kind of unnecessary. This doesn't mean I think the game is poopies, nor that I won't try it; I'll just be wondering why I'm doing some of the stuff that I'm doing while I'm doing it.

Congrats to Chris Birch and Stuart Newman for writing this massive tome -- and, from what I hear, selling it like gangbusters.

If it's clear to anyone that I totally misunderstood the game...GOOD. Please come correct me. Also, can you tell me where the rock 'n' roll part is? I didn't see it.

Okay, that's enough typing for now. NEXT: I will discuss StarSIEGE - Event Horizon, which is totally not "Castles & Crusades In Space" but which totally can be. Stay tuned! know...come back a little later.