Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tommy's Take on Smallville Watchtower Report

Last year, Margaret Weis Productions released Smallville, which turned their Cortex system on its ear. This year, they released the first supplement for it, the High School Yearbook, which turned out to be a fantastic resource for high school games in general, and Smallville High School games in particular. Now, we get the Watchtower Report which, as far as I know, is the last scheduled book in the line-up.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Watchtower Report PDF is $14.99 and 150 pages, focusing mostly on the "Metropolis Years" of the Smallville TV series. You can also get the entire set in a bundle for $34.97 at RPGNow. It is full color and photo heavy, as one expects from a licensed MWP book.

The book opens with a foreword from Justin Hartley, who played Oliver Queen on the show, in a nice, classy touch (although the Gold Standard of Celebrity forewords - Bruce Campbell's from Deadlands - is still untouched).

The first chapter of the book, Expanding Antagonist, covers villains (not surprisingly). A number of villain archetypes are presented, with tips on how to create them in the system, as well as story uses and examples of the character type. For instance, Killer Machines (like Metallo), with Assets like GEARHEAD and INVULNERABILTY and Resources like CONSTRUCTED MINION. Another thing this chapter does that other TV Shows into Games like Buffy the Vampire Slayer skips over, is using Villains as Leads. This, obviously, is a delicate balance as it puts players in a situation where someone wins, someone loses, and usually someone ultimately has to go away (although redemption is often an option in these situations). This chapter also includes Minor Features, which are less important villain types that don't get fleshed out quite as completely, using Defining Values (rather than the full values list) and Depth.

Next, we get the first of six prisons/facilities from the show, stats for them, as well as a list of relevant character sheets. First up is the Belle Reve Sanitarium, which includes stats for characters like the Sandman-esque Tim Wescott, the shapeshifting Tina Greer and the nameless Twins.

The Expanding Pathways chapter begins with a discussion on adding new players to the mix, either by letting them take over an existing Feature (important NPC) and turning them into a Lead, writing out a Feature and replacing them with a Lead who fills a similar role, or adding a new Lead altogether. They also provide tips on making your own Pathways chart, including using Checkmate as an example. Finally, they add an index of Distinctions from the first two books.

Next up is Black Creek, Montana, a facility owned by Lex Luthor. Stats here include "memory thief" Sebastian Kane.

The Expanding Play chapter is a lot of GM advice, really, such as scene framing techniques and when - and how far - to push the Leads. This chapter also gets into "Sideliner" episodes. That is, playing characters who AREN'T the Leads or even *directly* connected to them...but their Episode has an impact on the overall arc of the game. A similar idea, called Parallel episodes, is also introduced. Doubt any group I've ever had would go along with these, but they are an interesting idea.

Level 33.1, another operation of Lex Luthor's, is presented next, along with characters like Chloe's mom and Mikhail Mxyzptlk, Smallville's version of Mr. Mxyzptlk.

Expanding Drives is particularly useful for folks looking to take the system and make their own setting, as it covers using different Values than the ones presented, including an option for Iconic Values, in which each character shares five of the six values, but the sixth value is unique for each character. Along those lines is Owned Values, in which each Lead stakes their claim to one of the values, and are the only ones who can have the Value at d12, and also get a free re-roll with it. Relationships aren't excluded, either, as variations such as relationships with groups, as well as Titles (Editor-in-Chief is specifically named) are also discussed.

LuthorCorp Projects are up next, beginning with Project 1138 (vampires...inlcuding one named Buffy Sanders), Project Ares (super soldiers), Project Gemini (closing), Project Intercept (invasive interrogation), Project Mercury (medicinal), Project Prometheus (a suit that granted people superpowers), Project Scion (which turned out to be Brainiac) and Project Starhawk (meant to watch aliens).

Expanding Assets includes a slew of new Distinctions, Martial Arts styles and Heritages (including Wraiths) that you can use or adapt for your own new Distinctions. Additionally, new Abilities and Gear are also included. While there's not quite hard and fast guidelines for making your own Abilities, there are some pretty good benchmarks to go off of.

The Veritas Society, complete with its members, are given next.

Expanding Resources covers Extras and Locations, including a sidebar on Locations that are inside other Locations. This chapter also covers elevating Extras to Features and vice versa.

Zoners and Aliens include folks who aren't from around here, like Bizarro, Zod's wife Faora, and Zod himself.

The Story So Far finished what the Smallville corebook started with its coverage of seasons 1-9 by providing an episode by episode breakdown of Season Ten. This also includes Season 10 updates for all of the Features that were presented in the Smallville Corebook. A slew of new Features are also present, such as Booster Gold, Desaad, Deadshot, General Slade Wilson, Granny Goodness and The Blue Beetle.

WHAT WORKS: A lot of great advice on how to get the most out of the Smallville version of the Cortex Plus System, and a whole slew of NPC stats. The production values, as usual, are fantastic, and the book does a lot to really open up the system for people who like the base, but not the setting. The rules and guidelines for allowing players to play both villains and heroes is something that is often overlooked, but can be rewarding in the right group.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Minor complaint, but I could have used more pictures of some of the lesser known characters. I'm not a huge fan of the show, so some of these folks are lost on me.

CONCLUSION: As far as I know, this is the conclusion of the Smallville game line, which has proved to be a very effective three back adaptation of the source material, while also opening the game up to more than just the TV show. Of the two supplements, I prefer the Smallville High School Yearbook, just because it has some very useful advice that is applicable to more than just the Smallville game, while this one has some system-agnostic advice, most of it is about the setting or the rules. Great purchase for anyone running - or planning to run - Smallville. Now if the new Leverage supplements would ever come out...