Thursday, May 12, 2011

Tommy's Take on Masterbook Companion

MAN how time flies...I thought it was just a month or so ago that I reviewed the re-release of Masterbook by Precis Intermedia Games...but it was already back in January. That was my first experience with Masterbook, and while I liked what I saw, I also thought it fell a little short, support-wise...enter the Masterbook Companion.

What You Need To Know: The Masterbook Companion was originally released in 1996, and this is that same book re-released. The PDF is only $6.95, and as part of Precis Intermedia's awesome Print Upgrade program, you can kick in that other $12 to get it printed. Essentially, it is 128 pages of extra material for your Masterbook game. Of course, this means that you do need the Masterbook rules in order to get much use out of this.

Chapter one begins pushing it into Supers territory by offering up Advantages such as Elasticity, Immortality and Shapeshifting. Of course, every Advantage needs a Compensation, although the Compensation options aren't nearly so dramatic.

A whole slew of new skills are also present, culled from other Worldbooks apparently. These include magical skills like Cantrip, psychic skills, Counter-Intelligence and more. A couple dozen skills spread out over nine categories, as well as a very awesome d100 chart for Useless Skills...like curling your tongue, blow REALLY big bubbles or prying off the tops of beer bottles with your teeth. The funniest entries are definitely 76 and 77...the ability to repeat the last thing said with 100% accuracy.

There is a new equipment chapter that runs all over every era and genre, providing rules on bullwhips, animal hides as armor, powered armor, large cars, and laser pistols. The important part here is that the equipment is all itemized, with relevant descriptions and rules...and then summarized into a handy table at the end of the chapter.

The Magic chapter is a hand-holding walkthrough of spell creation, specifically pointing out areas that a GM may have issues with if a player decided to take advantage of the system. I'm guessing that somewhere between the original releases of Masterbook and the Companion, a few GMs tried to pull their hair out, hence this guide. Remember my disappointment at the Fireball being the only the spell truly "spelled out"? Those concerns are addressed with a handful of new spells, covering ground such as making yourself appear to be a few feet away from where you actually are, or filling the target with fear.

The Vehicle Combat chapter starts off well enough, with a handy guide for interpreting tabletop distances to allow vehicles to remain in play easy enough, but gets a little too overcomplicated for my tastes when it starts referring to the Movement Chart, which cross-references approximate Miles Per Hour, Kilometers Per Hour, Meters Per Second, Inches Per Phase and a Speed Modifier. My eyes kinda glazed over looking at it. Some folks probably love it, but I'm good with using a slightly more abstracted system. However, this chapter does cover most vehicular combat eventualities, including vehicle hit locations, targeting drivers with attacks, crashes and so on.

The World Creation chapter covers an extensive amount of information as it walks you through the creation of a world (complete with a map). There is a humorous artifact in this chapter regarding map making, where a sidebar notes that "many" gamers have computers and can get programs to assist them. Keep in mind this is 1996...and now I'm reading that book on a computer, I can access a number of free or pay map programs, as well as purchase ready made downloadable maps.

The last chapter is one of those beauties of a "generic" system - guidelines on mixing your genres. That is, importing characters from one setting to another. This includes a nice mechanic for "cross dimensional insanity" - when someone encounters something so jarring to their sensibilities that it threatens to drive them off the rails mentally. From discussions ranging from various ways to cross dimensions, to a broad look at genres, to specific references to the Shatterzone and Bloodshadows settings, this is a pretty comprehensive treatment of the cross genre campaign, I don't feel like it properly warns that not all groups will be terribly recepetive to a cross genre campaign, ESPECIALLY if you spring it on them out of the blue.

An extensive index as well as an OpenD6/Masterbook conversion rounds out the tome.

What Works: I don't know if it is quite indispensible, but it is certainly very useful for the Masterbook GM, especially the Spell creation guidelines and examples. The Advantages also stand out, especially for someone wanting kewl powerz for their game. While I doubt I could see myself using it for a full blown supers game, power options for another genre are always a good thing. The World Creation Chapter and the Cross-Genre chapters are very extensive and advice-heavy.

What Doesn't Work: A bestiary still feels like it is missing. Sure, they may be in setting books (I don't know), but someone who picks up Masterbook and the Companion are kind of left figuring it out for themselves. Also, I appreciate the comprehensiveness of the Vehicular Combat chapter, but my eyes glazed over when I hit that Movement Chart.

Conclusion: I didn't mention the art above, because it straddles a line: None of it is particularly great, and I'm not a super big fan of full page art pieces unless they are really good, but the book is crammed so full of material that I can't say it honestly detracts from the value. For the price, it is DEFINITELY worth it for any Masterbook GM, and those with too much disposable income (they are out there) may get their money's worth out of the Cross Genre and World Building chapters, given how heavy on information and light on mechanics they are.