Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tommy's Take on Summerland Revised and Expanded

Look, Ma...no bombs!


Summerland is an interesting concept for a PostApoc game, and the final entry in my PostApoc series. I once heard it referred to as a Post Apocalypse game designed by M. Night Shyamalan, and that may not be wrong.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Summerland Revised and Expanded is a PostApoc game by Fire Ruby Designs, featuring a world that has been consumed by Nature. No atomic bombs here…society was shattered when forests emerged overnight, and this massive forest, called the Sea of Leaves, reached out to folks with The Call, and sucked a good 80% of the population under its thrall, turning them into The Wild. The PCs play Drifters, folks that are so emotionally damaged that they can’t commune well with what’s left of society…a trait that makes them immune to The Call. The PDF is available at RPGNow for $14. I got it in one of the charity bundles a while back.

Drifters have four Qualities – Mind, Empathy, Body and Finesse. You split 20 points among them, on a scale of 2 to 8 (though stats can go as low as 1 or as high as 9 in certain cases). Then you add Tags to each Quality (one per Quality, except for your highest, which gets two, and one of the five tags has to be negative). From there, you define your character’s past and possessions. Your character has a Trauma scale, and you start off about midway down it. The goal is to reach 0, meaning you have conquered your demons and can adjust to society.

Actions are described with Intent and Consequences. What are you intending to do with this action? What is the outcome? That sort of thing. Really like most RPGs, just using specific terminology. Take your Quality, add Tags to get your final score, roll a number of d6s according to the difficulty of the task (2 to 5) and try to roll under your total. If you can get your Total to 13, you have an automatic success.

“Damage” is handled as Distress, which is assigned to each of the four Traits as necessary from the end results of actions. The severity of the Distress can manifest as Cosmetic, Minor or Major, and the book provides examples of each for each of the four Traits. Characters can invoke their Traumas in the hopes of conquering their issues, but this can also cause even more stress in the process. The lower you get your Trauma scale, however, the more susceptible you become to The Call.

The setting is painted in fairly broad strokes, with The Sea of Leaves popping up pretty much wherever you like in the world. Seasons are dramatically amplified, with Spring buzzing with energy, Summer bringing brutal heat, Autumn causing the beasts in the Sea to become restless and Winter being harsh and unforgiving. Most communities are bound to their spot, thanks to The Call, relying on Drifters to help them travel or to move supplies between communities.

The dangers in the Sea of Leaves include other Drifters (being mentally or emotionally damaged is kind of a calling card, after all), The Lost (folks caught in the lure of The Call), The Wild (what The Lost turn into, feral humans), animals, very unnatural animals (some nice examples are given, like a deer that hunts humans and a bear wearing a cloak), and spirits and ghosts. Some interesting story seeds are also included.

The Narrators section stresses that the truth behind The Sea of Leaves is left up to the Narrator to determine, and each PC actually does work towards an endgame: Reaching the end of the Trauma track and finding redemption. It also provides discussion on using Horror, Hope and Magic themes in the game, as well as reference sources for them and scenario ideas. Guidelines are provided on making incidental NPCs, along with a few examples.

The Fallen Leaves supplement is also folded into this book, providing fully developed NPCs, providing examples of the kinds of folks found in The Sea of Leaves, both potential allies and potential adversaries. A number of communities and locations round out this section, like an island that has fallen under a dictatorship and a hunting lodge where the inhabitants are waging war on animals, seeing them as the symbol of the change in the world. A set of random roll charts are provided for making your own communities, as is a character sheet.

WHAT WORKS: Great premise. The idea that nature has just risen up to wreck humanity is intriguing. The art in the book is primarily photographs, making for a very evocative feel to the book. I always appreciate good random roll charts.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: The writing at times seems to beat around the bush, especially for such a simple system. I do like a little more crunch in my games.

CONCLUSION: Fantastic premise, but one I doubt I would ever use with the system as written. It’s not that the system is inherently BAD…I just prefer a little more meat on my games. The idea that it’s an RPG with a defined endgame is also pretty interesting, as most are open ended to a fault. I’d say it’s well worth reading, even if it’s not my cup of tea for gameplay, especially if you want PostApoc without bombs and mutants.