Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tommy's Take on Bold & Brave

Bold & Brave (hereafter B&B) is the first supers release by Precis Intermedia Games, better known for such releases as Two-Fisted Tales (the best standalone pulp game, IMO), Iron Gauntlets and GnomeMurdered among others.

Powered by GenreDiversion 3E, B&B is uncharted territory for PIG, and it's been kind of overlooked due to the hype and release of other recent supers games.  So, we're gonna take a look and see if it's been unfairly overlooked.

A little background on me: My first RPG was the Marvel Super Heroes Advanced Set...my favorite RPG of all time is Marvel SAGA...I own a lot of supers games and played even more.  Supers is my favorite genre.  Heck, I labor endlessly producing small press comics as fast as I can find artists to draw them.  I love supers...so I'm willing to give any supers game at least a good read through.

B&B is a 57 page book available in PDF format for $6.95, which can be upgraded to a print book for an additional $6.54 at PIG's website, http://www.pigames.net .  It is not a standalone game, requiring the GenreDiversion3E game book, which provides the core rules for the game, both of which are written by PIG's own Brett Bernstein.

The PDF has a very nice cover by Scott Harshbarger, featuring a man in a black and blue bodysuit flying through the air and hurling electricity at a knight garbed in red who is riding what looks an awful lot like the Goblin Glider.  I am assuming the man in black and blue is The Shocker, who was the first super in the game's setting, Prudence City.

The PDF has a table of contents but no index, but is fully bookmarked, fully searchable and allows copy and paste.

Basics of the System


I'm only doing a rough overview of the system, since it's not included in the book.  Characters have five abilities: Fitness, Awareness, Creativity, Reasoning and Influence, which are rated on a scale of 0 to 6+ (6 entering “unimaginable” territory).  Character creation options allow for random rolling, assigning scores of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 to the abilities or a point buy.

You customize characters with pursuits (skills) and gimmicks (advantages and disadvantages).  Options include either 10 points spread out among the pursuits (you can take an incompetency for bonus points), or a system where you pick one incompetency, two proficiences, three specialties and one mastery.

Each character gets one free gimmick, and pays for the rest through lowering abilities or pursuits, or taking detrimental gimmicks.

The basic mechanic is rolling 2d6, adding the relevant ability, as well as any bonuses or penalties from a relevant pursuit and comparing it to a difficulty number set by the Director.  Pretty straightforward stuff.

Introduction

B&B's setting, Prudence City, seems to have been inspired by Marvel's Civil War, in that the default assumption is that the government requires registration of heroes as sanctioned agents.  However, “unlicensed” heroes are generally given a pass, so long as collateral damage is kept to the minimum.  The introduction provides an overview of this, as well as a discussion of the additions B&B makes to the game system, and a very nice breakdown of supers types, from Pulp Heroes to Silver Age style to starting in a world with no heroes at all.

It's a good introduction, providing a solid summary of the setting and never drags.

Characters

This chapter gets into making characters for B&B, focusing on the additions to the rules.  First up is origin, of which there are five: Paragon, Gadgeteer, Mutant, Alien and Construct.  The one that's going to be the most confusing to fans of games such as Mutants & Masterminds is going to be Paragon, which isn't your Supermans in B&B, but your Batman-esque highly trained types.

B&B also adds Acclaim and Heroism meters, which are rather cool and remind me of the Popularity and Karma mechanics from Marvel FASERIP, in which your heroes can boost their profile through their deeds...Acclaim can provide bonuses when interacting with people, while Heroism fuels things like gaining powers.

The Powers section is about 15 pages long, running the gamut from enhancing your abilities to firing blasts of energy to being freakishly large.  With some of the more basic powers not running more than a sentence or two in description, there are a LOT of powers in the section, allowing for some broad customization.  Interspersed throughout this section are several sample characters, some of whom are kinda cheesy, but not as bad as I've come to expect from non-licensed supers games.  Some of the powers are simply layers, such as Extra Protection, Super Protection and Epic Protection, each of which provides more and more defense from attacks.

The powers are more flexible than, say, Savage Worlds (or maybe it's just that there are more of them), while also being simpler than Mutants & Masterminds.  The game includes Power Limitations as well as Weaknesses, the former of which limit powers (as it sounds), the latter being broader limitations for characters above and beyond detrimental gimmicks.  A character with Dark Presence, for instance, has trouble trying to interact with animals and children, while a guy with Rotten Luck will almost always be the target of an attack or insult.

New gimmicks include Alter Ego (of the Captain Marvel kind), Sidekick, Nemesis and more...filling in the standard superhero tropes, really.

It's a simple, workable system with enough depth to keep a guy like me interested.

The chapter ends with the specific character generation rules for B&B, which I definitely would have put at the beginning of the chapter instead of the end.  You can randomly roll your origin, or choose it.  You can use any of the three Ability generation methods listed above.  The standard options for pursuits remain.  Gimmicks have a random roll table, or you can use the standard method.  With Powers, you can either use a set number based off of campaign scale, or you can do random rolls based off of campaign scale.  In either instance, the origin selected impacts the number of powers.  A random background chart is available as an option, and certain origins require specific limitations on their powers.  In addition, the player has to roll one die for each power and, if it falls in the range listed on the chart, must select a limitation based off of the origin.  Weaknesses are handled in a similar fashion, you roll the dice listed and, if they fall in the range listed, you gain a weakness for each die that does so.  Alternately, the Director can allow players to select up to three weaknesses, gaining a new power for each weakness.

The chapter ends with information on damage, and scaling it by campaign scale, as well as how characters of different scales mix, as well as a handy chart listing all the Powers, Gimmicks, Limitations and Weaknesses.

My main gripe is definitely that I would have put all the character generation info at the beginning of the chapter, before Gimmicks, Powers and so forth.  This is how it's laid out in the core, and it's more intuitive.  That said, the system seems to have a good amount of flexibility without being overwhelming, which I certainly appreciate.

Jurisprudence

Prudence City is detailed in this chapter...filling in about nine text heavy pages.  It starts with the city's founding and moves through the various sections and quirks of the city.  City Hall, for instance, is rumored by some to rearrange its corridors and cubicles at night, when no one is around.  The old City Hall is now home of the Prudence City Police Department, and despite being a weathered and decrepit building on the outside, is always somehow kept up with the cutting edge technology on the inside.

This chapter provides three newspapers, news networks and major corporations, each with their own identities.  Some poor folks have been left in houses that have had highways built over and around them, and the police largely leave them to their devices...the wealthy have their own neighborhoods, complete with a distinct architectural theme, and rumors of a Romeo & Juliet story in the making between an old money family and a new money family.

The author does a really nice job of painting the city in broad strokes, while still leaving plenty of room to play around with it.  Of the three networks, for instance, only two reporters are even named, giving ample room to fill the roster out as need be.

The city section is interspersed with a couple of more sample characters, as well as a very nice “random crimes & disasters” chart that you can roll on for inspiration.  Results are divide by scale (ranging from local to global down to personal) and have results like rioting, cats stuck in trees, slave trading, dinosaur attacks and abducted relatives, with 60 results in all.  A very nice addition.

The next section talks about being a hero in Prudence City, including the Hero Registry & Oversight Committee, as well as the pros and cons of being a registered hero, or an unregistered vigilante.  The author takes a morally relative approach to matters of justice and what is an acceptable breach of law by the heroes, and a slightly cynical stance that heroes are fairly likely to slide into villainy.

A handy breakdown of types of heroes is listed in a sidebar, from tragic heroes to righteous ones, as well as vengeful heroes (vengeful villains surface later, with a note detailing their one notable difference, namely that a vengeful villain is more likely to take their mad-on out on the whole world).

The section also provides a discussion of forming teams, which has the benefits of pooling resources, but has the downside of the actions of one reflecting on the entire team.  A page or so is devoted to villains, from the types of villains to a discussion of villains using henchman and lackeys, villainous masterplans and so on.

There's some good advice in the latter part of this chapter, a lot of which you've heard before (if phrased differently) if you've read too many supers RPGs...but the author never really gets full of himself, so it's not a hard read or hard to digest.

Jurisidiction

The book veers back into the crunchy stuff at this point, starting off with areas of character advancement, as well as guidelines on how to create new powers, in case your favorite oddball power from some other supers game isn't present.

A handy subsystem is detailed here for making gadgets, ranging from typical gadgets through suits and into large industrial machines.  However, only Paragons or Gadgeteers can make gadgets, for better or for worse.  This section also talks about damaging and repairing gadgets.  It wraps up with a collection of rules and guidelines including benchmarks for guesstimating difficulties on actions you're not expecting.

Finally, a character sheet rounds out the book.

Conclusion

The book says a lot, in not a lot of pages.  Admittedly, this is a sourcebook and not a rulebook, but the 57 pages or so are crammed with text and not a lot of filler.  As with most all of PIG's games, you can spring for the PDF, and if you like it, upgrade to the print copy for a little more.  The layout isn't the flashiest, but it also doesn't feel bland.  The setting information provides a lot of leading statements that it then leaves open ended for you to fill in as you like, and most of the setting information is system neutral, to boot.  Now, while I don't think the 8 pages of setting is worth getting just to port into your own favorite system, if you're already a fan of PIG's games, or if you're looking to try something new, this (and the GenreDiversion3E manual) are well worth looking at.