Sunday, February 01, 2009

Review: Genre Diversion 3

...Aaaaah, that's better.

First, some backstory. I really wanted the previous version of this game (genreDiversion-i) and its sister FRPG, Iron Gauntlets, to be THE go-to games that'd live on my shelf. They hit all the sweet spots: fast, uncomplicated, sturdy and inexpensive. GD-i was nice and generic, but had two great games attached to it (Hard Nova ][, a space opera action game and Vice Squad: Miami Nights, which is excatly what it sounds like). Iron Gauntlets was a vanilla fantasy RPG, practically begging for user-made content. Top it off, both systems used the same stats -- only the actual mechanics were different. So stuff I made with one, I could use with the other.

I shoulda been in heaven. But I wasn't.

In actual practice, things didn't feel right. Sitting down to run the games, my enhusiasm would stumble and pause at little grievances -- tiny things, like a pebble in the shoe. Something would not feel right, and--

--there went my game.

Recently, I found out that Precis Intermedia Games would be releasing a new edition of genreDiversion. The author, Brett M. Bernstein, was kind enough to give me a .pdf copy (doubtless because I'd needled him about IG so much, so maybe he's trying to shut me up), which I soon printed and read over in the space of a day.

And that's how we get to the beginning of this post:

...Aaaaah, that's better.

genreDiversion 3
(henceforth GD3) is a 130-page genre-neutral RPG. It allows for any type action-adventure game you care to get up to. Characters aren't much different from the way they used to be. They have 5 core abilities: Fitness, Awareness, Creativity, Reasoning and Influence. Skills (renamed Pursuits) define more of what your character knows and can do. Gimmicks color the character (think 'advantages & disadvantages') and new, optional Drives give your character a "why" to go out and do what they do.

The real changes come in the system proper. GD3 is not the roll-under game it used to be; it's now roll-over, with 2d6 + Ability + Pursuit trying to meet or exceed a target number. The impact on the game is, to me, a huge one. I don't know if it's just psychological or what, but now I feel like a character using this system is somehow more capable, or at least less prone to fail. With GD-i and IG, I never got a good feel for how my characters would perform at tasks; they always felt limited, somehow, like no matter how good they were the odds were still stacked against them. That problem is gone in GD3, and I'm glad, very glad, to see it go.

GD3 characters are sturdier, too. They can take more damage, now -- or maybe it's better to say they're not so fragile as they once were. In the older systems, a character could take 5 points of damage, one for each 'grade' of injury, before crapping out. Now, characters have multiple points per grade, meaning that they're not as likely to get taken down in one or two rounds of combat; only weaklings and cannon fodder will drop that easily. To me, this is quite gratifying -- not because I think my characters should be invulnerable supermen, but because I want my fights to go on longer. With GD3, they can.

Weapons do fixed damage aainst two types of tracks (Fatigue and Injury), but armor protects randomly; an 'abatement' roll is made for each point of damage dealt, and if the roll surpasses the armor's rating, a point gets through. This isn't different from prior iterations, it's just kinda cool. Alternate damage tracks are proposed, so individual GMs can emphasize the things they want in their games; you might track a character's Sanity along with their Fatigue and Injury, or perhaps their Social Standing, or their Stress Level, or their Tolerance to alcohol, or...whatever. The concept is entended to turning damage tracks into Magic Point calculators--there's even this clever idea:

A signature meter measure’s an electronic device’s
electromagnetic radiation. While the degree of this meter
has no direct effect on the device, each successive grade
can decrease the difficulty required for sensor systems to
detect the device. The signature increases by one mark
with each use of the device.

Things like that may be a little too much for some game-play styles, but for some, they're ideal, which is why they're optional.

There's a chapter on magic, which I'll admit to not having read yet, though I should. Magic was one of the biggest sticking points I had with Iron Gauntlets, because my players and I coudn't figure out how to throw a damn fireball. I promise I'll read this and get back to you.

You also get vehicle rules, with some chase mechanics that actually work pretty well for providing dynamic pursuit sequences. There's a scaling mechanic, delightfully illustrated via examples of starship-vs.-dinosaur combat, which is of a very rough grain but easily refined, if you feel like it. Speaking of dinosaurs, there is a brief but satisfactory bestiary included, and it integrates one of my favorite things about Iron Gautlets: variable monster abilities. Critters are given a range within which their stats may fall, and the GM can randomly determine the actual values, making each encounter a bit more unpredictable.

It's also worth noting that, just like characters, vehicles and equipment can have Gimmicks, too! I love this kind of thing, as it helps out in making one star freighter different from the next, or sharpening (ha ha) the differences between, say, a longsword and a cutlass.

There's a section on converting material between the company's other games, followed by a full-blown setting--a modern horror game called Unbidden & Forsaken. Not my cuppa, but it's detailed and shows well the system's flexibility.

There are a few flaws, but not many. Mostly, there's the occasional typo, or something that just doesn't seem to make sense and could use some explaining (why do I use my Brawling rating to defend myself in a Dueling conflict?). Minor gripes, really, and barely worth my mention.


Is GD3 the go-to game that its predecessors were going to be? I must be honest: for me, it won't be. But it's a damn fine game to have in my library or yours, and though it won't be my one-and-only, it'll sure be a top choice. In fact, the prospect of playing Hard Nova ][ and Steampunk Musha is much, much more appealing now, because the rules make more sense in my head.

Good job, Brett.

genreDiversion 3E Manual is available from Precis Intermedia Games for less than 10 bucks.