Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tommy's Take on Zeeks: Psionics in 2088

Last year, I reviewed Interface Zero and I liked it well enough that I named it one of the Top Six books I read last year, and I stand by that. It was an incredibly comprehensive setting book, it just lacked one thing: Psionics.

Now, we get Zeeks, a 48 page supplement covering psionics in 2088. This bad boy is full color and the PDF is layered, fully searchable and generally has all the bells and whistles. The cover is a nice piece of work, with a Zeek tossing some armed thugs around...though if I had to change one thing, I would have made the Zeek a bit more prominent.

INTRODUCTION

The book begins with a piece of short fiction and an intro to psionics and zeeks: How common people hate and fear them, and how governments and corporations tend to love them, since they make nice weapons.

CHAPTER ONE: 2088 THROUGH THE EYES OF A ZEEK

This is written in first person perspective through the eyes of a zeek about their experiences in the world. For instance, the North American Coalition kinda doesn't trust zeeks exactly. The Middle East is fairly hands off, since they have enough problems without starting a war with Zeeks.

Zeeks also believe in a place called Shangri La, which is kinda like Avalon for mutants (X-Men reference)...a safe haven for zeeks. They just can't agree on where or what it is (like most groups of people). This section also mentions stuff that zeeks REALLY don't like, such as psiders: Giant, thought-eating spiders.

Zeeks generally come in three varieties: Peeks, tweeks and freeks. Peeks focus on ESP and stuff. Tweeks get into the telekinesis. Freeks can't be categorized as easily. These aren't hard character classes, merely descriptive guidelines...and they don't take wild talents and latent talents into account. Wild talents tend to have a power or so that they can use...latent talents tend to have a ton of potential bubbling under the surface.

The chapter ends with an in-character discussion of groups, from the psi-divisions that hunt (and recruit) zeeks, the cults that often worship Zeeks whether they like it or not, and the hate groups that kill, oppress or otherwise do bad things to zeeks.

It's not a bad set-up, but hopefully it is just a teaser and we get a little more concrete info a bit later on in the book.

CHAPTER TWO: BUILDING A BETTER PSYCHIC

Ah, game mechanics.

First off, Interface Zero ditches Power Points in favor of a fatigue system, a move I wholly approve of. Failed rolls can now inflict Fatigue, so they provide an optional rule for adding another level of Fatigue, to make Zeeks a little more durable in that regard. Zeeks have to have the Arcane Background (Psionics) Edge, as well as an additional Minor Hindrance.

Five new Hindrances are presented: Debt, Shakes, Stress Trigger (which can cause psychic powers to go off at the wrong time), Weak Zeek (weaker starting power) and Latent Talent (which requires two advances to buy off and lets the GM select your powers).

The New Edges section not only provides eight new Edges, but points out the ones that do not fit Interface Zero, and overhauls the other Powers Edges to fit the system. Freek, Peek and Tweek give you bonuses when using related powers, while Wild Talent gives you a single minor power. Psychic Leech is particularly nasty, causing other people within range to suffer the fatigue when the Zeek uses their powers.

As you may recall, Interface Zero also introduced Occupations...and Zeeks expands that a bit. It also introduces the concept of Occupations requiring a certain skill set, and those that do also having a bonus perk. I'm not opposed to the idea...I think it's kinda cool, personally...but I would like to see the Occupations from the main book revisited, then, with suggested requisites and perks. After all, if Waiter is important enough for suggested Requisites and Perks, then Bounty Hunter surely is.

While you are not limited in the types of powers you can take, the powers are all divided into three categories (Peeks, Tweeks and Freeks), with the caveat that any power from any other SW book can be used at the GM's discretion. Using powers under the new system is simple: Roll vs Target Number 4 as normal, if you fail, you take fatigue. If you succeed but roll equal to or less than a certain number, then the power works and you STILL take fatigue. This is calculated by cross referencing your Power vs the Power Point cost of the ability you are using. If you have a Power of 4, for instance, you can safely sling powers of a cost up to 5 without worrying about gaining fatigue on successful rolls.

Powers can be maintained for free for a number of rounds equal to the Power's duration multiplied by the character's power. If they try to hold on past that, the possibility of adding fatigue kicks in. I really dig this system, especially with the handy chart there for cross referencing.

An optional rule for failures and critical failures is also presented, to use in place of Brainburn from the core rules if you like, which can leave a psychic Shaken or even Wounded in bad situations.

Eight new powers are also provided, from old psychic standbys such as Astral Projection to Illusions and even Night Terrors to torment sleeping adversaries with. They do a nice job filling in the missing blanks from common psychic powers.

CHAPTER THREE: MALLMART 2088 FALL UPDATE

I loved the equipment section in the IZ book because of the catalog format, which continues here. We get cool stuff like Memory Clothes (programmed to remember your favorite outfits!), to external Deep interfaces for those without the implants. We also get psychic dampeners, as well as drugs that provided an extra boost for psychic powers.

A nice little update.

CHAPTER FOUR: SAVAGE TALES...ZEEK STYLE

A Friend In Need is a Savage Tale that is pretty flexible for most groups, in which an old friend (a bounty hunter) shows up on the doorstep of the PCs in dire need of assistance, and being hunted by a corporation that happens to have a deep interest in Zeeks.

Deal With The Devil is written as a follow up to A Friend In Need, in which the PCs get approached by the very people they crossed swords with in the previous Savage Tale, in which a potential common enemy emerges.

Both are good tales, certainly flexible enough to fit most groups...in fact, the second tale offers an alternate "hook", in case you don't choose to run the first one.

Half a dozen plot hooks are also provided, each given a small intro, followed by The Offer (how the job can be presented to the crew) and the Complication. You can use these as a springboard to flest out into adventures, or just fly by the seat of your pants. Zeek terrorists, psiders and psychic vampires...oh my.

CHAPTER FIVE: FRIENDS AND FOES

And here we get some stat blocks. Two sample NPCs are provided, one being a Psi-Hunter and the other a corporate director. From there, we get into generic stat blocks, most of which are variations on zeeks, but also including the creepy psiders.

Lastly, included is a fully clickable index.

THOUGHTS

Honestly, I would have liked to have seen at least a sample cult or hate group fleshed out, from a neutral perspective rather than an in-character perspective. Truthfully, that's probably my biggest gripe. From a purely material standpoint, I wasn't just creatively inspired like I am with some books (including the original IZ book, lots of the Suzerain stuff, or pretty much anything by Third Eye Games)...but from a mechanical standpoint, this book delivers the goods. The powers system looks pretty great, in that it ditches power points (which I don't care for), but maintains compatibility with how every power thus far has been written up. The new Hindrances and Edges are great stuff, as are the new powers.

I prefer words to art in my RPG books, especially full page art pieces in 48 page books, no matter how nice they look, so I would call that a minor strike (speaking from personal preference, obviously)...but there is a of great stuff here, don't get me wrong. It just doesn't completely blow me away like the main Interface Zero book did.

Highly recommended if you enjoyed Interface Zero, or if you just want another take on the Savage Worlds powers system.