Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tommy's Take on Exploding Aces

Another one of those “perks of blogging”, I get an early look at the Exploding Aces RPG by 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, who primarily make d20 based stuff, and so are usually out of my normal areas of interest. Coincidentally (or not), they have a Kickstarter going on right now for Exploding Aces.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: 18 days to go as of this writing, Exploding Aces has reached its initial funding goal of $3,000 and is working towards a $5,000 stretch goal for player mats. Higher end stretch goals include custom card decks and GM screens. $10 gets you the PDF version and $25 gets you the print, while $50 gets you the full color version. To see the various pledge levels and rewards, click on the Kickstarter link above. This review is based off of a pre-layout version of the manuscript.

Exploding Aces eschews dice altogether, in favor of a traditional deck of playing cards, complete with two jokers. Exploding Aces are references to automatic successes, which occur when you draw an Ace. What kind of Ace is an exploding one is dependent on how skilled you are at what you’re trying to do, but an Ace of Spades is always Exploding. In fact, if you get an Ace of Spades as the first card draw, it’s a Sterling Success, which makes it an automatic success and can regain spent Force of Will points or gain you twists (which are kinda like Savage Worlds bennies). Force of Will points are used to flip cards and then decide if you want to keep them or discard them.

As noted, Aces Explode, which equals success, while Jokers equal failure (and possibly botches). You draw a number of cards equal to your relevant Quality, and the difficulty chart determines which cards are Plus, which are Minus and which are Blank. You want to have more Plus cards than Minus cards in order to succeed.

The damage system is interesting, as you draw cards for the weapon type, with 2-10 dealing damage, and the suit determining how much (half rounded down, half rounded up or full damage). You can soak wounds, but health is tracked on Health boxes, and you can choose to accept Setbacks instead of actually marking off damage boxes. These include injuries like Cracked Ribs, Acoustic Trauma and Hairline Fractures, as well as issues like Hysteria, Doubt and even being Cursed.

Character generation starts with selecting four dominant aspects: Extrovert or Introvert, Realist or Dreamer, Thinker or Sensitive and Judge or Adapter. Then you spend 10 points on Mind, Body and Psyche, determined by your personality type as determined by your choices above.  The qualities break down into further categories, with Body defined by Agility, Appearance, Stamina and Strength, Mind by Intellect, Perception and Wits and Psyche by Poise and Spirit.

Next, you pick your Persona, and this does give you a seven point spread divided among Combat, Physical, Knowledge and Social. These are spent on Edges for each group, like Fight, Firearms, Drive, Sneak, Medicine, Survival, Guile and Persuasion.

After this, you get 25 free points to further customize your character, including buying ratings up to Trained, Skilled and Expert, as well as Lifestyle.

Basically everything is given benchmarks to go off of to guide your character creation selections, with a generalized scale of 0 to 6 and more specific examples for each aspect.

If you buy up to the Supernatural level (6), you get a free talent. These include things like Martial Combat Master (Agility), Owning the Room (Appearance), Tough (Stamina), Python Grasp (Strength), Lightning Calculator (Intellect), Dark Vision (Perception), Empath (Wits), Master Assassin (Poise), and Beacon of Hope (Spirit).

Additionally, you can further define your characters with Talents and like Hammer Fan (for revolvers), Danger Sense, Crack Driver, Area Knowledge, Surgeon, Carouser, Famous, Honorable, Mentor and Optimist. Flaws include Coward, Red-Shirt (you are ALWAYS attacked first), Allergies, Deaf, Klutz, Code of the West, Notorious, Wanted, Dark Secret, Addiction and Nightmares.

The GM’s section is a broad cross section of advice that’ll have templates for minions, nemeses and creatures, as well as rules governing things like explosives, fighting mobs, etc.

WHAT WORKS: Interesting core mechanic, and pretty easily expandable from the vast amount of talents and flaws already provided in the rules. The extensive list of sample actions should help most GMs figure out not only what should be used for each action, but how to make actions feel different (like the ascending difficulty when climbing a mountain).

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: As with most “universal” systems, it seems to need a guiding hand to get you from the options and into your setting. That guiding hand seems to be missing, at least from this draft document, though the Kickstarter page says several adventures will be included, so this may prove to be a moot point. Some of the Setbacks were so…clinical and specific…that it was almost jarring for what seems to be well suited for an action-adventure kind of game. Not a huge fan of the organization, especially with things like an in-depth discussion of damage and setbacks showing up before character creation and way before combat.

CONCLUSION: Are the mechanics gimmicky? Well, yes. Is that a bad thing? I can’t answer that for you. For me, I think System Matters because I like the Game part as much as I do the Role-Playing, so I’m cool with a system where everyone’s drawing cards instead of rolling dice. I like the concept, even if I don’t particularly NEED another universal system (which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t play or run another one…I don’t need a lot of things that I later buy)…I’ll just be particularly interested to see the adventures, which will really show just how adaptable the game is between genres. The project is already funded, and 4 Winds have a strong reputation, so this is a pretty risk-free Kickstarter, in my view.