Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tommy's Take on Wizkid: The Cheapening

Wizkid: The Cheapening is set in Postmortem Studios' World of Darkness parody "The Shadow World", although it levels its aim more squarely at Harry Potter than it seems to any version of Mage.

This is my second Postmortem Studios review and my first Shadow World review, and I will warn you up front: Wizkid is full of salty language and raunchy humor, and whether or not that's an issue for you should determine whether you pick the game up or not. I wasn't offended by anything in the book, but I'm not an easily offended guy.

Powered by their in-house Xpress system, retailing for $8.50 in PDF format at RPGnow, and making no references to Atlantis (yay!), Wizkid is 166 black and white pages (well, the cover is in color), fully bookmarked, searchable and all that.

INTRODUCTION

Pretty basic introduction, complete with (I assume) Postmortem's patentented "Hey, if you're pirating this and you like it, buy it so we can make more" message. They also toss a shoutout to their other Shadow World games, Bloodsucker: The Angst and Chav: The Knifing, neither of which have I had the opportunity to read yet.

We also get a basic explanation of the system, which is rolling a number of d6s equal to your stat and trying to reach a target number set by the appropriate skill. Any dice that hit the target number can then be rerolled once, and you count up the successes.

Oh, and wizard types use Magic(k), because people love that extra "k". The introduction also gives an overview of the wizarding world, complete with an explosion of wizarding applicants due to a certain fantasy author's novels about teenage wizards.

A four page glossary clues you in on most of the major terms you need to be aware of, including the monster types roaming around The Shadow World, as well as important British school terms for yankee rednecks like myself.

Oh, and it is worth noting that quotes are used for just about every heading throughout the book, and they are often quite hilarious.

CHARACTERS

This would be character generation, then. Character generation is based on a point buy system, with stats (which are ranked 1-5) costing more the higher you purchase them. You get ten of them, which come in active-passive sets: Strength and Resilience, Dexterity and Speed, Intelligence and Perception, Charm and Control and Resolve and Patience...and each stat in a set has to be within two points of each other.

You also pick a schtick ("The fat kid", "stoned out of your mind", "lecherous creep", etc.). After that, you pick one of the four Houses: Crow's Feet - Moody Goth kids, Hippogriffs - Valiant, but a bit self-righteous, Hubblebubble - Annoyingly perky, and Slithering - Arrogant and borderline(?) evil.

You get separate pools of points to spend on skills, which are bought the same way as stats, although you can also purchase a focus for a given skill if you choose, which give you an extra die for die rolls.

Magic(k) is divide up into four Realms: Buff, Create, Destroy and Nerf, and your chosen House gives you one Realm as a Superior Realm and one as an Inferior Realm. Again, you buy Realms the same way as everything else, except your Superior Realm costs half as much and your Inferior Realm costs twice as much.

You pick your Trademark Spell and merits and flaws to round out your character, including House Points, which are a measure of your social standing and are affected by a bunch of stuff.

Each of the Houses are given a two page rundown, with one page being an image of a sample student and the other detailing the stereotypical mindset of the House, including why their Superior and Inferior Realms are what they are, and giving characters a Strength and Weakness. For instance, the emo Crow's Feet kids never reroll Resolve dice because they're too lethargic to care, while Slithering Wizkids get a discount on purchasing the Control stat because they tend to be more authoritative than others. In true White Wolf parody fashion, each House has a pithy "What we think about the other houses" remark.

The jokes in this chapter all work, especially if you've read the Harry Potter books (or at least watched the movies), but I do have two gripes: 1) The character generation borders on way  too much beancounting for a comedy game, and 2) from an organizational standpoint, the summaries of the various stats, skills, merits, flaws, etc could have at least appeared in the same order as they appeared in the character generation breakdown.

DRAMATIC SYSTEMS

Here is where everything gets explained, starting with an example for each statistic. In addition to the examples, we get the target numbers based off of skill level, as well as an explanation of the degrees of success.

In addition, you can have bonuses or penalties, which affect the number of dice rolled, and if you get reduced to zero dice, you can't attempt the action.

Presumably, this stuff is all present in the other Xpress/Shadow World games, but when we get into the actual Magic(k) stuff, which separates Wizkid from Bloodsuckers and Chav. Wizkids use Wiz to power their spells, and you can gain more Wiz for some humorously absurd reasons, like writing bad fan fic, drinking energy drinks and "pleasuring" your partner successfully.

Wizkids can also "see" magic(k) (of presumably any kind), as well as make pocket dimensions that they can hide in, or store items in.

SKILLS

There are 40 skills in the game, and each one gets a fluff piece (that is explained mechanically in an example), a short description and some suggest Foci (such a "Sob Story" for the Acting skill).

Skills like Brawl, Dodge and Firearm are joined by Comedy, Folklore and Party Hardy. 40 skills is more than I normally like in a game, but this chapter is well written and well organized, so that helps.

MAGIC(K)

Spells are pretty straightforward. They all use one of the Stats as basis, and are grounded in one of four Realms, which act as skills for the mechanical purposes. Every spell cast costs 1 Wiz point and number of successes equals Potency.

Buff spells cover everything from Combat Buffing and Healing to Invisibility. Basically, if it alters the target, it's a Buff spell.

Create spells create. This can be items and creatures, or it can be extended to teleportation and making the previously mentioned Pocket Dimensions.

There are a few variations of the Destroy Realm, from Stun and Destroy Object to Kill and Magic(k) Missile (the former generally kills or not, outright...the latter inflicts damage).

Nerf is used to negatively impact opponents...in fact, nearly every spell given is written as the opposite of the Buff spells.

Everyone gets a Trademark spell, which coss no Wiz and generally use a better die pool...plus, they are not subject to botches. Speaking of...if a spell roll ends in all 1s...there's a table for that. You can accidentally summon Bad Things like Orcs, Dragons or Cthulhu, cause yourself to bleed from every orifice, or accidentally set the spell off at a hyped up potency.

MERITS & FLAWS

Merits are thematic stuff like Cool Shaped Scar, Cool Parents, Horrible Life (being emo has its perks in this game), having an Indentured Supernatural or having a Pact With Darkness to draw on.

Flaws include Arachnophobia, having an Annoying Sibling, a Fashion Dictated Sexuality (being Straight, Gay or Bi on a whim) or Paddling in Egypt (meaning you're in deep denial).

And if that's not enough, a decent formula for price setting your own Merits and Flaws.

BACKGROUND

A discussion of common topics, like personality and experience, as well as "Wizdom", which is the "Morality" system of Wizkids (and reminds me more than a little of Banality from Changeling: The Dreaming).

They recommend the 20 Questions approach in lieu of detailed character backgrounds, but honestly, I'm not even a giant fan of 20 Questions, personally.

Lastly, we get rules on weapons and equipment, as well as how socially minded characters can make their school uniforms work for them.

COMBAT

Initiative is a set number, derived from combining Speed and Perception. Rather than Hit Points, characters have Wound Levels that, unfortunately, look like a bad parody of wounds in the Storyteller system.

There aren't a ton of tactical rules, though there are rules for trying to Dispel a spell being  cast at them.

The chapter also includes rules for Bigpitch, a Quidditch parody.

WIZKID SOCIETY

This gives a good overview of the structure of Magic(k) schools, including who is capable of affecting House Points held by the Wizkids.

THE SHADOW WORLD

And now we find out how Wizkids interact with The Shadow World.

The sections are divided up into Africa, America, Asia, Europe, India and the Middle East, complete with the houses that hold the most sway in each area, as well as a liberally sprinkling of acidic wit by the author for most of the places mentioned.

THE OPPOSITION

Ah, the bestiary.

Big Birds, Giant Spiders, Dragons, Orcs, Elves...even Gelatinous Cubes (with a taste chart corresponding with the color) are here.

Unfortunately, Chavs and Bloodsuckers are both mentioned, but not detailed in any way...and GMs wanting to use them are directed to their own games, as the chapter lacks even "shorthand" versions of Chavs and Bloodsuckers to get you started.

CAMPAIGNS IN A LIFE OF DAZZLEMENT

Just a little campaign advice, as well as 20 different adventure seeds to run with, for inspiration or when you need game tonight and you're stumped.

VEHICLES

This appendix seems like a bizarre arifact in this game, presumably left over from the two games that came before it where it would be more fitting for the most part.

Blurbs advertising upcoming product, a two page character sheet and an index finish out the book.

THOUGHTS

This is only my second review of a Postmortem Studios game (and my first Xpress/Shadow World review), and I again notice that while they are going for the jokes, they are remembering to put actual, playable games out there. The writing is sharp and clever, especially for people familiar with The World of Darkness and especially Harry Potter.

There are some downsides, though: The art is nothing impressive, and that's fine...but a few pieces show up multiple times in this book. The other big gripe I have is that the game borders at points on being too "big/complicated/whatever" for a comedy game, especially the sheer number of Health Boxes PCs wind up with.

Heck, you could probably run it pretty straight and use it as a good Harry Potter game if you wanted, and the right group could have a grand ol' time playing it as intended...just be aware that the writing is NOT for all audiences, ESPECIALLY the young or easily offended.