Monday, October 25, 2010

Tommy's Take on Age Past (Preview)

Age Past is an upcoming fantasy RPG by Jeff Mechlinkski, and due to my partnership with Paco Jaen of G*M*S Magazine, I have been given the opportunity to preview the book. Now, this is just that, a preview...I won't be doing a full review here.

The PDF I was given clocks in currently at 253 pages, with some material still missing as well as several placeholders for art. The estimated completion date is September 2011, so I think they still have time.

Age Past uses an interesting twist on the notion of dice pools for their system, called the Elegant10 system...and it kinda is, really. You take your dice, however many it is for a given action, and roll them. You keep the highest die for the result. However, if you roll multiple 10s, each additional 10 is a +1 to your result. Additionally, you have the option of holding back any number of dice from your pool and using them to grant a +1 instead.

For instance, if you have 6 dice, you can hold three...you roll three and get a 5, 7 and 2. So you keep the 7 and add the three you held back for a total of 10. That's kind of cool, and a bit different than your typical dice pool systems. There is a catch, though: If half or more of your dice turn up 1s...then your action fails. So if you roll six, three of them have to be 1s in order to fail. If you roll two and hold four, then if you get a single 1, you fail.

This also has a nice side effect for a higher powered game with larger die pools, as you can ditch x amount of dice as automatic bonuses, while still rolling enough dice to feel comfortable about success.

The Age Past rulebook has a subheading of The Incian Sphere, and there are promised supplements for Steampunk, Martial Arts, "Fantasy Technopunk" and Religion/High Level Adventuring (where I could see the Elegant10 system being awesome).

The game world, Terres, is divided into multiple spheres (continents) that are largely cut off from each other, and so they have all developed differently (this is where the supplements will come in)...I'm sure this is something that falls apart upon closer examination, but if the other ideas are good enough, I'll accept it. Besides, this allows for mixing and matching of the books/supplements with minimal explanation.

Age Past uses an archetype based system, which is really an incredibly flexible class system where you take a solid starting point (Thief, Mage, Assassin, Barbarian, Scholar) and develop it from there with little restrictions...although some combinations are likely to work better together than others.

Characters are defined by four heroic traits and six attributes. The Heroic Traits being Reaction, Brawn, Charisma and Intellect with the Attributes being Agility, Endurance, Influence, Mind, Spirit and Strength.

There is a Luck system, kind of like Hero Points/Drama Points/Bennies/Etc from other RPGs, and everyone has access to Kewl Powers.

The available races are Gobla Incia (western goblins), Hammer Dir (rock dwarves), Mechanites (mechanical people), Orkis (orcs), Silpen Kai (man elves), Straaden (wood folk), Terres Incian (western men) and Theriomorphs (half beasts).

One of the things that bugs me about this game are the naming conventions...honestly, I'm not sure if I applaud the effort of giving orcs a name like Orkis...or if I'm annoyed that they aren't just calling them orcs and being done with it.

The skill system looks fairly robust, with a system for fumbles as well as just failures, with fumbles having their own unintended consequences based off of the type of roll being made.

The Powers system is rather extensive, with 130 powers, many of which can be taken up to four times each. These cover a wide range, from what we normally consider "class features" to "feats" and so on. Each power also has a short flavor text quote attached to it for extra effect.

Powers include Apprentice Spell Caster, which can be taken four times at four different levels, depending on just how powerful and versatile you want your character to be. Bane Gaze is a magical stare that automatically cowers minions and can force other opponents to lose their actions. Combat Master is a catch-all that provides a selection of bonuses you can choose from. Dragon Kin means you have latent Dragon genes, and now have a breath weapon. Heavy Lung increases your tolerance to either heavy smoke or inhaling water. Link Eyes allows you to see through the eyes of your animal companion...and those are just some examples. I can only imagine that more powers will come in the later supplements.

Factions are also present in the game, with ranks in each faction that you can achieve and bonuses that you can gain for having that rank. They include Assassin Guilds, Loremasters, Inquisitors and Smugglers.

In place of a typical alignment system, Age Past uses Morality system that starts with Heroic, Selfish and Malevolent and then gets further defined from there.

Finally, there is a Flaws system...however, it is not a min-max type of thing where you try to take Flaws that don't affect you in order to buy new points...it's just meant to be something detrimental that pops up every session or so...kind of a "Heroes with feet of clay" type of thing. Honestly, I kind of like that.

The equipment section covers a lot of old fantasy standards but also includes small bombs, pistols, some unique traps and more, edging the overall "feel" a bit away from "standard" D&D fantasy.

An extensive spell list is present for spellcaster types...unlike D&D, you don't have "fire and forget" spells, instead requiring Mana expenditures and, with some spells (typically combat spells) a MIND roll.

Critical hits are interestingly done as well...you compare the attack roll and the defense roll, and if the defense roll is half or more below the attack roll, a critical hit occurs...and Age Past uses a Warhammer-ish set of critical hit tables for effect.

The combat section also includes siege rules, naval warfare, minion rules (Age Past adopts a very...dismissive...view of minions, allowing heroes to clean out levels of minions equal to their level without rolling...just a fair warning, if you hated the 1 hit point minions from D&D4e).

Age Past also has magic items, with a twist: You can become addicted to magic items! If you get hooked on magic items, you are compelled to seek out stronger magic items, until such time as you kick the addiction or you finally get something that satisfies you. Interesting little twist.

And yes, in addition to the lists of magic items, Age Past has rules for crafting your own.

Monsters are divided up in categories similar to those in D&D 3e, with Constructs being replaced by Clockworks, Aberrations by Horrors and so on.

All of the monsters are given a couple of paragraphs of description in addition to their stat blocks, and those annoying naming conventions come in again: (There are no vampires, but Blood Drinkers...though they do come in three varieties: Feral Drinkers, Baron Blood Drinkers - for the Count Dracula types and Merks, who are kind of like vampire knights, serving the Baron Blood Drinkers).

In fact, at least three examples are given for each category, providing a wide spread of monsters, if not a deep roster. An enterprising GM should be able to take those examples and craft his own monsters without too much effort.

Supplemental rules in back are included for those wanting miniatures play. The PDF I have even includes a printable GM screen, in a very nice touch...I'm oddly surprised that in 250 pages, however, they didn't include a GMing section. Especially odd since this is an otherwise all inclusive rulebook.

From the version I've read, they need some solid proofreading...I saw some typos, misused punctuation and so on. I'm not a huge fan of the names for the races, as I've mentioned...but that is the thing that sticks out as being my BIGGEST gripe.

There are a lot of D&D-inspired ideas here, but there is a lot setting it apart from Dungeons & Dragons, and the Elegant10 system alone does a lot to make me give the game a second (and third) look. Even at this stage the game is playable, and they have active playtesting ongoing right now. Much like with New Epoch, there is clearly a lot of heart here, and I think the game probably deserves more than to be dismissed as a "fantasy heartbreaker". Looking forward to the continuing development of Age Past, definitely.