Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tommy's Take on Progenitor

Arc Dream has some of the best ideas for books.

The only problem is, I have never been able to get comfortable with the ORE system. I own Dreadful Secrets of Candlewick Manor and Monsters and Other Childish Things, and we've made characters...it just never makes it to game time, mostly because I am just so skeptical about how well the system would work out for us in play.

Progenitor is a setting book for Wild Talents 2e, and it is very much an alternate reality type setting. Amanda Sykes, an unassuming housewife type in 1968, gets nearly Godlike power...(no pun intended)...with a catch: When she uses her power on someone, they become empowered. This goes on...it's now modern times and there are people with powers running around all over the planet.

Progenitor is a $20 PDF that is copy and paste enabled, fully searchable and bookmarked. Even has a clickable table of contents. Considering it clocks in at nearly 400 pages, features like that are ESSENTIAL. It is black and white, aside from the cover, and it does require the Wild Talents rules (the full second edition will work, as should the Essentials in a pinch).

NOT TALKING ABOUT THE WAR

Honestly, I usually skip the setting fluff pieces. Occasionally, I'll skim the first few paragraphs...but a lot of times, I just move on. I intended to do the same here, as Amanda Sykes is interviewed by a reporter, but I found myself intrigued. Sykes comes across as a very relatable Godlike being.

THIS CHANGING WORLD

Here, we get the World in the Four Color system as written by Ken Hite in the Wild Talents rulebook. For those curious, it starts at Red 5 and drops to Red 2 quickly. The Gold Axis is also a 2, while Blue goes from 1 to 3 pretty quickly. The Black Axis hangs around 2-3.

Here is also where the author talks about how the PCs can change the world, and details how the power tiers work, as each "generation" produces fewer (and weaker) supers. There is also a character option for "Marks", who are beings marked by the campaign's "Dark Energy", but have no real powers.

Five sets of power templates also exist, for quick PC or NPC creation if nothing else. But basically, the way it works is that this Dark Energy spreads, creating more supers when the powers are used, generally giving them what they desire at that point (ala Aberrant).

In the here and now, the first two tiers are all filled up, leaving tiers three through ten open for population. One interesting optional rule allows for "backwash": When a metahuman dies, there's a chance that their power returns to its ancestor, causing them to spawn again.

The world also moves on four Metrics: Suspicion, Technology, Economy and Warfare, each of which help to set the tone for what is going on in the world at the moment.

Now, here is the cool part: Random event charts, depending on the "tone" of the world. I loves me some random. Every game year, you take the two highest gauges, roll the dice, check the length and width with the relevant chart, and get the events. Any isolated dice become personal events (which have their own charts as well).

Authoritarianism can produce results such as cameras being installed in every public place and street corner, beings with Dark Energy being refused the right to vote, citizens begin refusing jury duty and more. Some personal events include stolen DNA being used to clone PCs, and a serial killer stalking metahumans.

Imperialism can give us fishermen turned pirates, dictators defaulting on their debts and a radical Atheist group declaring a...er...Holy war.

That's 12 charts (counting the personal charts for each) of random events...enough to make my mouth water.

The chapter ends with a broad overview of the important NPCs, as well as the timeline, before the book dives into each with an immense amount of detail.

THESE CHANGING TIMES

This is the extensive timeline from 1968 through Y2K. There are two timelines presented, with one being "our" history and the other being the Progenitor history, when Amanda Sykes gained her powers and began (inadvertantly) infecting people.

We get campaign frameworks along the way, spinning out of historical events in the Progenitor timeline, such as terminally ill patients rescued by young Tina Shaw and now not only alive, but empowered.

Historical figures such as Lyndon Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover and Martin Luther King, Jr. all wind up empowered and influencing events, even after King's death.

The world mostly carries on next to ours with minor changes until 1983...when the Metalocalypse occurs, complete with killer robots hunting metahumans and the biggest threat of nuclear war yet. Martial law gets declared in the US and much deatha and chaos ensues...but in a nice change, the world almost seems to get better for it, at least for a time afterwards...at least until President Reagan's untimely death, and the ascension of George HW Bush.

Things begin building to a new head in the late 90s, all culminating in the year 2000, which is left wide open for your group to explore.

I love the timeline and the setting BEGS to be run in a year-to-year campaign, skipping over months here and there so that the PCs can see (and probably change) the world around them. Given how heavily political the timelines are, I was honestly expecting to be annoyed or offended by the author's take on history, but was instead pleased: Some historical figures are painted in a very bad light, others are not. The world isn't necessarily nice to them, but there good and bad guys on all sides of the political spectrum, much as it truly is.

THE METAHUMANS

Here, we get tons of NPCs, starting with Tier One (Amanda Sykes) and running down through Tier Ten...with fictional characters and historical figures along the way.

Every character is given their background, Loyalties, Passions, Power Suites and Destiny...everything you need to know, from where they begin, to where they are going to end up (unless the PCs get involved).

In addition to the dozens and dozens of important characters, we also get a listing of straightforward "bad guys"...no deep, morally ambiguous motivations...just people who need to get beat up.

Additionally, as each character appears in the timeline, they are crossreferenced with the page number here, for extra utility. That's a big plus, in my view.

DEVICES AND DEVELOPMENTS

Here we get into just how the world has been changed, technologically speaking.

We start with syntergenes, which amount to tangible ideas and how to construct them (taking into account important things like symbolism, social class and even the language barrier)...you can even determine how quickly the effects kick in and how deep the brainwashing goes, complete with examples from the setting's history.

We next get various devices by superinventors, complete with the "when", such as Soviet laser guns in '78 and modular cars in '85.

Other Progenitor-specific developments such as the rise of Atlantis in '68, The Church of the Emerald virgin convinced that Amanda Sykes is the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary and the Metavictims Advocacy and Support Group, founded when Jarvis West gained powers in '69 and immediately went on a rampage, trying to hurt everyone he could.

CONCLUSION

A character sheet and index would have been nice, the index especially so for those getting the physical book instead of the PDF.

It's a very compelling setting, reminiscent of Aberrant and very much an "actions matter" kind of thing. Again, it BEGS to be ran from at least the dawn of Tier Three and playing loose with the passage of time, so that the long term effects on the world can be played out. In fact, I intentionally skipped over discussing much of the character or timeline sessions in detail, just so I didn't inadvertently spoil some of the twists.

That said, at 380 pages, it feels like a lot of it could probably have been said in less. I think a good product could have become great with tighter focus in the writing...something. It just never quite feels like the nearly 400 page count is fully needed, with the bulk of the book consumed with NPC write-ups and the two timelines...trying to cram so much stuff in, and only really slowing down at a couple of points, hurting the presentation.