Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tommy's Take on BASH Ultimate Edition

I literally purchased this book twice this year. Once in PDF and again, used, in hardcopy. Both times, my timing sucked...the PDF purchase came right before BASHMAN announced the Indy Press Revolution Print + PDF bundle, and the second time came right before BASHMAN announced a new printing with errata.

So, yes, my timing absolutely sucks.

Good thing I dig the game.

BASH Ultimate Edition does a nice job of melding many of the things I like from other games into one nice package. While not quite as freewheeling as an ICONS, it is also nowhere near the mind numbing beancounting of a Mutants & Masterminds.

INTRODUCTION

Pretty much a standard intro chapter, this does introduce some of the changes made from the original BASH, for those that are familiar with it. Most notably, the concept of Energy points was (thankfully) dropped. No tracking of points for powers (unless a character is specifically built that way).

Pretty standard stuff here. The basic mechanic is also introduced here: roll 2d6, multiply by your relevant stat or power, apply the result. If you roll doubles, roll a third die and add it...if it's the same number, repeat until you get a different number. This means that you can score a higher result off of a bunch of 3s than off of rolling a 6 and a 5, for instance. Note: I LOVE "exploding" mechanics, especially in superhero games.

For people that hate doing math in their games, a handy, color coded chart is provided on the back of the book.

CHARACTER CREATION

Every Character has three stats: Brawn, Agility and Mind, ranked from 0 to 5. The GM doesn't so much set the point totals for the characters as he does the campaign. Characters that come in under budget get Hero Points to use in play...characters that come in over budget get Setbacks for the GM to use. Four campaign scales are given, with point totals for those scales plus recommended Stat-Power point spreads. 20 Points is "Mystery Men"...north of 60 and you get into "Cosmic". Taking a Weakness can give you extra character points.

A full chart of all of the powers is present, complete with page numbers to help you skip around as you need.

Characters get skills, split into Physical and Mental skills, and are based off of your Agility and Mind respectively. They can either Every skill gets a speciality, and you can invest multiple slots into a skill as well.

Advantages and Disadvantages are determined on a one for one basis, with many opptionss present. A Versatile her can perform a Power Stunt once per issue without spending a Hero Die. You can be Immortal, or you may have Dumb Luck, which lets you reroll one roll per issue.

Disadvantages include Arch-Enemy, Freak and the very interesting Hidden Powers - meaning that the Narrator picks your powers for you, and you discover them over time.

Once you are all totaled up, figure out the Hero Points and Setbacks, and finish off your character with the details. They call motivation "Mental Malfunction", which kind of annoys me...call me silly, childish and idealistic, but I don't like to look at superheroes are being "damaged". Just knocks some of the shine off of them for me.

PLAYING THE GAME

And here we get into the details of the rules. First off, the author insists that the GM make all rolls in the open, and nothing behind the scenes.

Time is broken down into Pages and Panels rather than rounds and turns, which is meant to evoke a comic book feel...but I don't care for it, personally. I play a lot of different games and I prefer standardized terminology, for the most part.

We get guidelines on situational modifiers, and the game leans heavily towards using grid maps and minis...used to be, this would have been a COMPLETE turn-off for me...and then Savage Worlds changed my worldview on RPGs.

Damage in combat is handled by attackers rolling damage and defenders rolling Soak. If the attacker rolls higher, the difference is applied to character's Hits. Major Heroes and Villains have 100 Hits (but varying levels of defense, meaning not everyone goes down at the same time), while Minions have a less, depending on the specific type.

Hero Points and Setbacks are detailed here, and are pretty simple: Hero Points can be added to actions, Setbacks can be used to take away from them, and they cannot cancel each other out.

Hero Dice (which cost 5 Hero Points) can be used to perform Power Stunts, restore yourself to 20 Hits or suddenly burst in on a scene and a few other feats.

Common weapons are given rules, such as pistols, machine guns, brass knucks, bazookas and two handed swords. A handy chart even breaks down improvised weapons for you.

We get Fire, Falling and Drowning Underwater rules, plus "Extended Checks", a system to resolve a conflict over time (like chases, or trying to pick a lock while facing a time limit.) You get a target number, a time limit, who all can participant and the Complications. Like failing to hit a total 50 in 4 Pages to disarm a bomb, you get BOOM.

There is a Vehicle system, complete with Advantages and Disadvantages for Super Vehicles, as well as about 18 sets of stats for normal and super vehicles. Advantages include neat tricks like ejector seats...while Disadvantages include Open, meaning that you get very little protection from attacks on the vehicle. Headquarters rules follow, with common powers, plus Advantages and Disadvantages as well, like Heaviily Defended or Publicly Known. Five sample HQs are presented as well.

POWERS

Here we get the powers broken down in detail. They are in broader categories and then broken down into individual descriptions. You can modify them further with Power Limitation and Enhancements that adjust costs up and down allow you to customize. There are many combinations that can be built, such as powers with Limited Charges or that cannot be turned off...while Enhancements like Second Nature makes powers that require maintenance to be kept on with no concentration.

The section on Movement Powers includes sidebars on using momentum from super movement to inflict additional damage, or how to use Super Speed to trump another person in combat.

There is even a category on Intense Training Powers, which are essentially martial arts tricks, like hitting a weak spot or two weapon fighting.

I've modeled several of my characters from other games with little difficulty, so pretty much all of your major power needs will be met with the system. The system is in the process of being expanded with the Awesome Powers book which is supposed to add in a random character generation system as well.

NARRATOR'S SECTION

This chapter provides loose guidelines on making up a setting from scratch, or adapting an existing setting. The author also rightly pimps his own Megapolis setting as well, which is due for an Ultimate Edition upgrade.

Some good general adventure advice is provided for setting mysteries (including being prepared for players missing the obvious) as well as putting some thought into framing brawls. Subplots are also encouraged, with a list of common types, as well as suggested rewards for every issue in which a PC deals with their subplots.

This is the part about how I mention that I love random tables. You roll 2d6 on the appropriate table (slums, Downtown/Midtown, Uptown/Suburbs). This gives you a second table to roll on to get a situation.

Some examples: I roll snake eyes on Slums. This means I need to roll a third die, and I get a two, for a total of four for "Routine". Rolling on that chart, I get a seven or "Serious traffic violation"...for the sake of a superhero game, let's call it Road Rage. And there you go, a quick little incident to resolve.

A four on Downtown/Midtown gets Violent Crime. Roll again, get a seven - Mugging. Now we're talking.

Seven on Suburbs is Routine...I roll and get two fives, so I roll again and get a four for fourteen...a cat in a tree!

It's not a full blown adventure generator, but it's not meant to be, either...more of a "crap, now what" kind of thing.

Guidelines on Villians include Villain motivations, Advantages and Disadvantages, as well as Villain Dice which can be used to perform Important Villain Feats like faking their own death.

Minion rules are basically mook rules, which can be abstracted down to allow Heroes to fight whole groups on a single action. Nearly 25 minions are present, not counting the list of animals also provided!

SETTINGS

Ten settings (in broad strokes - Fantasy, Super Teens, Sci-Fi, Iron Age, Cosmic), broken down with recommended reading material, recommended point scale and the like. Some pretty much begin and end there. Others have additional material. Golden Age, for instance, covers WWII vehicles and such (and is getting covered in more detail thanks to Vigilance Press converting their WWII material - which I HIGHLY recommend - to BASH). Fantasy adds some new monsters, as well as Advantages and Disadvantages...and Cosmic adds a whole new slate of Cosmic Powers and a handful of rules tweaks to scale your game up into universe shaking events!

Most impressively is the section on mixing scale...that is, how you take your Street and World Class heroes and have them taking on the Purple Bumpy Chin Guy With The All Powerful Glove without breaking anything.

APPENDIX: HERO & VILLAIN ARCHETYPES BY SCALE

45 pre-built spread out at every scale, from Mystery Men to Street-Level to World Class to Cosmic. And yeah, with many of these, you can look pretty close and see the serial numbers. Mystery Men has Barbarian Warriors and Twin Pistoliers while Street-Level has a Swing Line Skulk and a Brawler. World Class has the Champion of Justice and the Master Crimefighter and Cosmic has The Cosmic Herald and the Harbinger of Doom.

Every single entry includes recommended Advantages and Disadvantages, plus Variations on a Theme - advice on tweaking the powers and stats to stay within the archetype and produce different results. A very useful resource when trying to figure out how to stat out your own guys.

APPENDIX: ALTERNATE GAME MECHANICS

Don't like the 2d6 mechanics? Use cards...or a d12 die pool...or a d10 or d6 die pool...or even Fudge dice. All mechanics that are covered in this section.

Don't like square grids and minis? Here's how to use Hex Maps, Measuring Tape or even "Cinematic Scale" (no maps or minis).

Other optional rules including buying Advantages or Disadvantages instead of doing a one for one with them...a Fame system that harkens back to Marvel FASERIP's Popularity system...and an experience point system (the game, by default, uses no advancement).

It is worth noting: None of these options are just glossed over...in fact, some of them (especially Fame) are incredibly detailed.

Lastly, it is worth noting that the book has an index and table of contents, while the PDF is bookmarked as well as searchable. Finding something should not prove difficult at all. The layout is clear and easy to read, and the present art is a cartoony, DCU Animated-ish style.

A character sheet is included in the back, as well as a "Quick Build Sheet" and the back cover is the handy color coded table that does all of the math for you in the default game mechanic.

CONCLUSION

BASH Ultimate Edition is probably the best superhero rulebook I have ever read. It's scaleable, flexible, provides options without handwaving, is clearly written, easy to look rules up in, and isn't as anal about the points as some games. I own every BASH product in some form or another right now, and I bought this in two formats, as noted in the beginning. The rules cover just about every common issue without becoming bogged down and there are just so many examples, especially in the settings and archetypes chapter.

I got the original BASH in the Haiti bundle and it looked promising, but had some issues (rules wise and layout wise)...you can look at the chronology of the BASH releases and see how Chris Rutkowsky has improved by leaps and bounds with each release.

BASH UE is the closest I have come to considering mothballing Marvel SAGA, and for those that know me, I'm not sure I can give a higher compliment.