Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tommy's Take on Stormrift

Stormrift is the new post-apocalyptic alien invasion RPG by Peter Spahn and Precis Intermedia Games, powered by the GenreDiversion 3 rules. If you don't have the genreDiversion 3 rulebook, no problem...they are helpfully included right here.

Clocking in at 172 pages, it is completely standalone. The PDF is $9.95 while the softcover is $27.95.

The PDF is fully functional: Bookmarks, searchable, the works. Only thing it lacks is a clickable Table of Contents/index, though both are there (just not clickable).

The cover features what I presume to be a resistance fighter and some of the aliens...I'm not a fan of the cover art. The aliens don't look particularly threatening and the human just looks a bit...off...somehow.

Still, I'm not a guy who's picks are made or broken on cover art, though it helps. I do have one more, somewhat serious gripe: I don't know the font(s) they used, but they are fairly distracting, especially on a computer screen. Sometimes differen't isn't better.

INTRODUCTION

The introduction begins with an in-character, inspirational "stand up and fight" speech before we get into What Happened...which is in 2012, around the time of that Mayan prophecy everyone's all excited about, this alien race called The Korr attacked Earth and wipe out much of our technology. They pretty much want to wipe out everyone and harvest earth's natural resources.

The rest of the chapter is a pretty standard intro, defining The Director, what dice you use (2d6), etc.

CHARACTERS

Everyone is assumed to be a member of the resistance (OLs - Operation Liberty Strike), fighting against The Korr. Characters are defined by Abilities (Fitness, Awareness, Creativity, Reasoning and Influence), Pursuits (kinda like skills), Gimmicks (advantages and disadvantages), Role (their primary function within OLS) and Drive (what actually motivates them).

Abilities are typically ranked from 0 to 5, and you get 12 points too divide among them. Pursuits can go up to +3 and you get 10 points for them. You get at least one gimmick based off of your Role, and you can add more by either adding detrimental gimmicks or reducing points for Pursuits or Abilities (or use detrimental gimmicks to add points).

Health is defined in two primary forms: Fatigue and Injury. Each have a threshold based off of Fitness, though some gimmicks may modify this. Each character can also have Cybernetic or Psionic Overload, if they have cybernetics or mental powers.

There are 14 OLS Roles from Sniper to Brute to Psion to Field Medic to Holy Man. Each one lists Required and Recommended Pursuits as well as Inherent Gimmicks.

The Pursuits cover a pretty broad range of combat and non-combat skills, and Gimmicks range from the mundane (Acute Hearing, Contacts, Poor, Intolerant) to the more interesting (Fearsome, Nanoborgs and Psionically Gifted).

Drivers run the range from Anarchy to Vengeance to Excitement to less common motivations in an alien invasion such as Humor and Style. You get bonus points for acting in accordance with your Drive, and you get penalized for not.

The Roles do a nice job of helping you get into the mindset of the OLS, and are a welcome addition. It is also worth noting that throughout the chapter are a number of in character sidebars about the war. Most of them are interesting and not very long, making for a some nice pieces of the puzzle that is life in the new reality.

SCENES AND TASKS

The basic mechanic is Ability + Pursuit + 2d6, compared to the difficulty. If you roll over the difficulty, you get OVerkill, which comes into play in certain circumstances. Double sixes are Triumphs, where you add an additional die to the 12 you just rolled. Double ones is a potential Calamity...if you have an applicable Pursuit, you might be fine. Otherwise...thus, in most cases, a character should not spectacularly botch in their niche.

The chapter goes into detail about how to determine difficulty for various types of Tasks, both active and passive.

Most damage is applied after an Abatement Roll...in which a number of dice equal to the damage dealt are rolled and compared to the applicable armor a character has. Every die that rolls above it is applied to the appropriate type of Health (fatigue or injury). If damage is noted as being "absolute", such as some psionic, it completely bypasses defenses.

As damage piles up, characters do sustain penalties to their actions. Experience can be spent to add an additional die to an action, break ties or boost a character's damage resistance.

Finally, there are Exploits. If a task garners five or more Overkill, a character can utilize an Exploit...such as increasing the speed in which a task is completed, garnering trust from witnesses, or hitting a breakthrough that provides bonuses to other related tasks.

PHYSICAL CONFLICT

While the basic mechanic were covered in the previous chapter, this IS a game about aliens versus humans warfare. Distances are supplied in Spaces, and are done so to provide a happy medium among those using the Metric system and those using the Imperial system.

Damage and ranges for weapons are supplied here, as well as tactics such as Charging. Some weapons have Gimmicks of their own, like Burst or Rate (x), the latter of which determines the number of times a weapon can be fired in a turn.

Combat Exploits are also given here, and they include the obvious (Vital Hits provide bonus damage, Grapple lets you lock an opponent up and Blinding temporarily blinds the opponent) as well as some cool options (Taunt prevents the opponent from using any Experience for the next turn, Loot lets you snatch an item off of an opponent and Rampage lets you strike your target as well as additional mooks that may be in reach).

Optional hit locations are also provided, with different types of damage modifers applied if a target is struck in the head.

Finally, mass combat rules are provided, which abstract units down into stat blocks like characters...with Health instead determining the number of casualties a unit has taken. Units can also have Gimmicks, such as Hero (in which they are lead by a big damn hero), or Psions (the presence of Psions in the unit lowering the difficult for their rolls a bit).

A sidebar also lists random calamaties for combat, based on the type. For instance, a ranged calamity can result in an innocent bystander being shot, a close combat calamity can force you to drop your weapon and so on.

DIRECTING THE STORIES

This pretty much covers basic GMing, a lot of stuff you have probably read before. Nothing wrong with that...however, it DOES get into Stormrift specific material, such as specific plots and subplots like Search and Destroy Missions, Rescue missions and so on.

Though OLS Members is the default campaign, options are provided here as well: Unaffiliated survivors, resistance members outside of North America and even alien slaves rebelling against The Korr.

The author tosses a reassurance in here that, essentially, there is no metaplot and any future books for Stormrift will not officially change the setting.

Advancement is interesting: New gimmicks are assigned by the Director as deemed appropriate. Up to two Pursuits can be used to attempt advancement, but they must have been used in the just finished session. Roll a die for each, consult the table...you may boost a pursuit, gain Experience instead, or gain nothing, depending on the roll. Psions and Cyborgs get a similar roll to develop new abilities.

Permanent injuries, healing and scaling damage are provided here, though it seems a tad out of place, as they all probably should have been a chapter back or so. Still, the scaling rules are a nice way to handle, say, a cyborg staring down a tank.

Guidelines on hashing out extras is also provided, complete with a reference table that includes the scaling rules AND a list of sample extras.

VEHICLES

Vehicles are defined by Speed, Handling, Frame and Tech, as well as their Purpose and Scale. They can also gain gimmicks, and Health is replaced with Integrity, which are measured in Mechanical Stress, Structural Damage and Voss corrosion (the nasty stuff that is killing tech on earth).

A random Calamities chart is also provided, as well as pretty much anything you need for vehicle combat, including the effects of damage on a vehicle (such as reducing its top speed) and a handful of Exploits, such as a Precision Hit being used to take out an engine.

A massive list of vehicles is provided, for land, sea and air. Literally, everything from tanks to a segway(!). If a vehicle you want to use isn't in the book somehow, you probably have something darn close to run with.

ADAPTATIONS

Here are rules for cyborgs and psionics. Basically, cyborgs came about because people figured out how to take Korr Cybernetics and slap them onto humans. Now, I personally see how that might be a Bad Idea...but it makes for good game options.

Cyborgs have cool toys...but they also have to deal with Cybernetic Overload...in which their psyches can be pushed to the breaking point that can cause outbursts of rage and even force them to go so far off the deep end that they are no longer PCs.

Not only is a big list of cybernetic gimmicks present, but a random table for determining gimmicks is as well, if you want to go that route. Some cybernetics include Arm Blades, Cyber-Ear, EMP Shielding and even a "built in" Tool Set. About 40 gimmicks in all, by my count.

The Stormrift that the Korr used to invade Earth triggered psychic powers in some humans, but this obviously isn't completely natural and it shows, as psions can fall prey to a similar rage effect as cyborgs. Psions have about 26 gimmicks to choose from, with old standbys like Telekinesis and Telepathy present, as well as new tricks like Mental Revelation (which reduces your difficulty on a Reasoning based task by tapping into the minds of those around you!).

Finally, Voss is explained...the rust effect unleashed by The Korr that is slowly limiting mankind's options for warfare.

BESTIARY

We get what amounts to the Scale discussion again, as well as a word on Abilities. In addition to the number given for each ability, most abilities are given a letter code that you can roll on a table and cross reference with if you would like to randomize the abilities instead of every creature of that type having the same Fitness, for instance.

A slew of Gimmicks are provided, like Dead Stare or Kamikaze (which is instant death for the creature that has it). Others include Regeneration and Venomous.

First up is a big list of common animals, such as birds, dogs, snakes, boars, aligators and so on.

Then we get to the goodies: The Korr. The Korr are all fairly creepy looking...each entry has the proper Korr name, as well as the slang term used by the OLS.

Motherships are giant jellyfish that serve as mobile Korr bases.

Juggernauts are these huge crab-looking beasts that serve as living war machines.

Fliers look like flying crustaceans, whereas Little Fliers are overgrown bugs.

Crushers look like giant worms with ram horns.

Crab Walkers resemble big, mutated crabs.

These are the "human" names for them, of course. Dozens more entries are provided, not only filling out the ranks of the Korr, but also creatures that may find their way through the Stormrifts and into earth on their own!

INVASION OF EARTH

We get a timeline of the important events, starting in December 2012 and advancing up 189 days, with war in progress. Attacks happened all over the world, but the US was hit particularly hard, especially in the major cities.

The Korr's attacks affected the climate on the planet, and nuclear retaliation has had fallout that is affecting everyone as well.

We get into the Korr themselves...described as a capitalist society broken into four castes: Nobles, Medical Sciences, Warriors and Workers. The Korr have conquered whenever and wherever they wanted and assumed that the same would happen on Earth...but have been stunned to discover not only humanity's fighting spirit, but their knack for incredibly lethal weaponry.

The Korr's tactics (and they use the same tactics basically all the time...one of their glowing weaknesses) as well as the breakdown of their invading force is provided, alongside a full history of the Korr.

The Resistance are fighting a guerilla war against the Korr, trying to minimize their losses and make the war too expensive and troublesome for the invaders. At the head, the OLS is lead by a number of US Generals, who have organized the resistance after the President disappeared following the ordering of nuclear strikes three months earlier.

The realities of the world today are also covered: Money is worthless. There are no grocery stores. Lists of locations for scavenging and the likely loot are listed. Since everyone is having to make due with whatever they've got, we also get Jury-Rigging rules.

New equipment is provided, though it is all pretty much Korr materials...some of it being so unique to their physiologies that humans couldn't really use it.

To make matters worse, The Korr brought a doomsday device called the Akorras through the rift and it shattered in Earth's atmosphere...meaning there are shards of a doomsday weapon scattered about. A number of shard-based encounters are provided, like a shard surfacing at a meth lab.

A generalized list of factions are provided, like Humanitarian Workers, News Agencies and even Dogs (who absolutely HATE The Korr), but they don't leave it at that: Specific groups such as news agency FXNN and The Factory (formerly a beer factory, now a refugee camp) are given a paragraph or so of detail.

Other, less savory groups include jihadists, skinheads, pirates and even a mob family...this kinda clues you in on the idea that there is way more to do if you get tired of tangling with bizarre creatures from another dimension.

A full 34 plot ideas, a paragraph long each, are provided...many of them are pretty basic (rescue missing persons, etc), while another leads to the PCs having to deal with a cyborg warlord.

A lengthy sidebar details a huge list of films one can watch for inspiration (as well as what to actually watch for, in most cases), and the chapter ends with a list of random encounter tables broken up by urban and rural settings, as well as scavenging tables.

FIRST MISSION

First Mission is a basic "defend the small town" plot, with a shard of the Akorras doomsday device located in a small town and the PCs' cell present to hopefully fend off the Korr. The town is given a good amount of detail (most everything except a map), and this should serve as a perfectly fine starting point.

The book ends with a Character Sheet, a Vehicle Sheet and a Skirmish Sheet, for recording characters, vehicles and skirmish forces respectively. A one page index tops it all off.

THOUGHTS

Other than the art not doing it for me, a couple of small organizational issues and the fonts annoying me, I really enjoyed Stormrift. The author did a tremendous job of getting a lot of information into one book, and it never struck me as dull. In fact, I LOVED the in character sidebars throughout the book, because they not only provided valuable insight into the world through the eyes of the people, but they were kept short and sweet.

One idea that hit me pretty early on is using Bold & Brave and doing supers vs aliens...maybe even using the shards from the Akorras as the "why" for the super powers...the only downside is that it would overshadow Psions and Cyborgs quite a bit.

I like how the setting is painted in broad strokes as to what is going on...there isn't a detailed breakdown as to what cities have been destroyed and what haven't...but you can make a reasonable judgement call on just about everything, while having enough material to justify exceptions to the rules.

All in all, a very nice standalone product that is only hampered slightly by a few unfortunate production choices.