Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tommy's Take on Tools of Ignorance

It's a baseball RPG.

Hey, don't laugh. I reviewed a wrestling RPG a little while ago, and it was tremendous, so let's keep an open mind here.

Tools of Ignorance (referring to the catcher's gear, which is prominently displayed on the cover), is a 52 page PDF, selling for $5. The game's author has noted that he intends to make a print release available as well. It is worth noting that this release is by Flying Mice Games, and clash bowley has a very distinct layout style that he and I love, and some folks just hate. Basically, it is one column of text down the right hand side, with topical headers on the left hand side. Frankly, I'm excited to see it's still there.

INTRODUCTION

As it says. One thing right off the bat I wasn't 100% clear about, is whether or not players are meant to be on the same team, which was due to some typos in the draft I had received, but those have been fixed. Everyone is ostensibly on the same time, although the game is certainly usable with everyone running their own teams.

TEAM CREATION

Before you get to making your characters, you define the team's characteristics, which determines your budget for players. You have three markets, and the team's type is graded in five steps, from Hapless to Top Notch. If you like, you can roll these or pick them, starting off with a completely struggling team straight out of the movies hoping for that desperation season that keeps them around another year before they get sold off.

Players are similarly defined: Seven steps from Rookie to Ancient, and three steps from Standard to Superstar (the only combination that is impossible is a Rookie Superstar).

A chart is given for the Star Ratings and the amount of Notice that each player has to maintain in order to hold onto their Star Rating...if they fall below Standard, they get cut at the end of the season.

There are a number of ways, in-game (baseball game, not RPG game) to score notice, with a helpful chart...a Home Run vs your rivals? 5 notice. Pitch a No Hitter in the Playoffs? 50 points. You can get negative Notice, if your player is acting like a jackhole, becoming more trouble than you're worth.

The Manager must also be created, presumably collectively...they are defined as a Boy Genius, Veteran or a Crusty Coot (which decides their attributes), and can be a Tactician, People Person, Drill Sergeant, Mastermind or Accountant, which define the Edges they have access to.

ONE ROLL PLAY

Kind of an odd placement for this, but these are simplified rules for deciding games you don't want to role-play, providing target numbers for competing teams as well as guidelines for seeing which players have highlights that might affect their Notice.

CHARACTER GENERATION

Pretty simple...you get 8 Background Templates and 7 Professional Templates and you combine one from each list, adding everything together. Next, roll to determine handedness, throwing, applying Edges and then Traits, the latter of which are completely player defined. Edges give you +1 to your Target Number for every applicable rank, while Traits give you an extra die for every applicable rank. You get a budget for Traits, but Edges are defined by your player's age and position on the field.

HITTING and PITCHING

Now, we start getting into the mechanics. You can hit for Power or hit for Average. In each case, you roll your dice pool versus a target number of the appropriate attribute (Coordination for Average and Strength for Power). You subtract your success from the Pitcher's successes and check the table in this section to see if you hit a Home Run, score a base, get walked or if you're out.

Pitching is real similar: You have Power Pitchers and Crafty Pitchers, which use Strength and Coordination respectively. Pitchers also have Endurance to see how long they can go without crapping out.

You get two challenges per game, and they are moments where you try to buck the standard results of hitting and pitching, like a runner trying to steal a base. This is the same basic mechanic: Roll the two appropriate skills and compare results. In addition to Challenges, you get Maneuvers that can be applied, such as pitching around a batter (great for those times when you have a real slugger on the plate) or sacrifice bunting to try to move a runner along the base.

Any time Traits are used, you run the risk of injury, and a simple system is presented that can give you Nagging Injuries (which don't keep you from missing any time) to Bad Injuries, which can bench you anywhere from days to the rest of the season.

On hits, you get handy charts showing the type of hit based off of a d20 roll compared to the styles of pitcher vs batter, and then a second chart showing where the ball went when comparing the handedness of each.

Next, we get two tables and a list of the Standard Results of each hit depending on the type, where the ball went and the number of people on base...this will be the result assuming there are no Challenges. Finally, we get Errors, which are the result of a player rolling no successes on a Challenge (for instance, a pitcher making an Error gives the better two extra dice to hit the awful pitch he handed right to him).

TROUPE PLAY AND LEAGUE PLAY

This is a one page discussion on the layout of the teams and games, such as everyone playing multiple characters of their choice, everyone having a vet and a rookie, skipping straight to the Playoffs or playing out a real league.

The author shys away from very little in the game, even offering a page of guidelines on performance enhancing drugs, drug tests and the penalties for failure.

THE CARDS

This is what actually first attracted my attention to the game. The GM deals out one card, that someone MUST take. If they take it willingly, they get a taken that they can use for something of their choice, such as an extra Challenge, an Extra Die or an extra point of LUCK. If more than one person agrees to take a card, they also get a token.

The catch? The cards are life events...and about half of them are negative.

2 of Spades causes the media to catch something you did last game, giving you +1 Notice...King of Spades causes rumors to float about your use of performance enhancing drugs, giving you -5  Notice!

10 of Hearts and your S.O. moves in with you at your request, giving you a bonus to one skill for one session. King of Hearts? Your Ex announces she's pregnant...by you...to the press. Making for some penalties. There is an alternate "Family" chart that can be used for family men...like your family moves into a new home, and everything goes wrong.

Clubs can bring about random drug tests and even a result in which your entire team gains +1 die to any one skill.

Diamonds are all about health...you can heal up injuries here, or catch the flu, depending on the card.

STARPOOL TASK RESOLUTION

Helpfully summarized on one page: Basically, you get a number of d20s equal to your appropriate skill, and you try to roll under the appropriate attribute, with each die that does so being a success.

A massive, alphabetized list of suggested team names are provided, as well as a chart for determining stats for the opposing team at random (when you need to determine it quickly for a challenge).

A full team line-up is given (Portland Tradewinds), plus a character sheet, a score sheet and a team sheet.

THOUGHTS

I am not a baseball fan. I am not sure how many baseball fans are clamoring to play a baseball RPG. I don't say this to knock clash or the game...I am a wrestling fan/gamer, and I can't get a game of any wrestling RPG going, period.

That said: I love what clash has done with this. The few references I didn't get already, I did a quick search on Bing and got them figured out. The mechanics are simple with a number of options to provide the extra depth, but without grinding you down in minutea. I LOVE the cards bit...as anyone that reads my blog should know, I am a huge fan of random tables.

That said, there are flaws. I read the book AND I did a PDF search, and I could not find an explanation for LUCK. Now, this is present in other StarPool games like Blood Games II, but it has some very specific applications over there. The organization was questionable at point as well, namely with the One Roll Games being in front of character generation, and the explanation of the game mechanic almost at the back of the book. To me, at least, they seemed out of place.

I enjoy clash's work as a designer, even if I'm not a huge fan of the source material (I dug Blood Games II, and I like On Her Majesty's Arcane Service even more, despite not being a fan of alternate history, and I hope to check out StarCluster 3 very soon), and that holds true here. With an interested group, I would gladly run a bad luck minor league team campaign using this system, and watching baseball bores me to tears. Easily the best baseball RPG I have ever read, even if it is hampered by some organizational issues...(and no, I don't recall ever reading another baseball RPG, but I did not intend that to be a backhanded compliment, either).