Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tommy's Take on Packs!

Games with animal characters certainly aren't unique, but Packs!, an upcoming English translation (and Savage Worlds adaptation) of a German RPG, features the players playing as rats, competing for survival in the Ratlair, an abandoned department store.
ETHICS IN GAME JOURNALISM DISCLAIMER: I was provided a complimentary draft of this book for review purposes.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This was originally a German RPG, and it has a few supplements out. It looks like Prometheus Games has partnered with Studio 2 Publishing for their first US release, and the English version will include both the game's original system and Savage Worlds rules.

The Kickstarter is running right now, and has hit its funding goal. They estimate the book being around 100 pages, and you can get the PDF (right now) for as low as $10, or the print as low as $30. This review is from a Work in Progress version still missing the Savage Worlds rules and running about 60 pages.

When creating your rat, you divide 8 points among four stats (maximum of 3 in a stat): Strong, Quick, Clever and Social. Tough is a derived attribute based on Strong, which pretty much flags Strong as the stat you don't want to skimp on. Once that is done, you pick 3 Talents, from choices like Claw and Bite, Jabber and Impress, On the Builders (this being lore about the artifacts of the former rulers of The Ratlair), and Wound Licking. There's quite a few options, and each one can be bought at Level 1 or Level 2. You can also select Tricks, like Dead Rat (which lets you play dead), Exceptional Ally (gaining you a friend of the non-rat persuasion), Iron Jaw (for extra chomping power), Iron Stomach (for extra digesting power), or Ratty (you have a way with the opposite sex). Again, there are several more options I didn't mention, so plenty of variety.

The system largely involves either using a combination of two Traits or doubling a single one, and then using those Traits to create a dice pool, and taking the top two dice from the pool and comparing it to the target number. I'm not a big fan of dice pools, but if 3 is the highest a Trait goes, then rolling 6 dice and taking the top 2 isn't bad. If two of the highest dice are 6s, you get a spectacular success...but if you roll as many 1s (or more) as you do 6s, you blunder...and you can do both on one roll (If I'm reading it correctly, this only happens when you tie on 6s and 1s, but I could be wrong). 

The rats have an interesting ranking system, in which they build up "songs" in three categories: Fang, Eye and Heart. Gain enough songs and you gain more names. The more songs and names you have, the stronger your influence among the larger rat community. Interesting social system.

Now each rat, in addition to the customization thus far, also belongs to a horde, which further defines them. They can be Fire-Rats, worshippers of the flame and the ones that came before, to the point of being crazed zealots, and each bearing a horrible burn scar. The wealthy (for rats) Collectors want for little and manipulate bargains to their ends. There are the sneaky explorers known as The Red Eyes, and the vicious fighters known as Sharpteeth. The Divers have even adapted for a water-bound life. The Hordes all have a World of Darkness-like "What we think about other Hordes" kinda thing, which can always be fun.

There's a lot of great world info here, much of it told from the perspective of the rats, and the "world" (the abandoned department store) is four stories tall and huge, easily making for one of the most unique "game worlds" I have ever seen. This is particularly sold by the artifacts section, in which common, human items have been turned into objects of reverence by the rats, and the bestiary, in which each animal is listed by the name rats call them, with our name for them in parenthesis. Rats don't like hissers any more than they like sneakers, I promise. (That's snakes and cats, by the way).


- Some of the text is incredibly evocative. I particularly loved the section on rats reaching adulthood and how they are sent out into the world.

- An abandoned department store might seem like a pretty limited setting...but not when you are the size of a rat. Four floors (six, actually, counting the two underground levels) and a ton of space.

- Great art which really sets the tone for the game.

- A surprisingly strong variety of creation options, with the various Tricks, Talents and Hordes to choose from,

- I'm not sure about the game system, and I would be really interested in seeing the Savage Worlds version, which could wind up giving Low Life a run for it's money as the most off-beat Savage Setting on the market.

- Interestingly, aside from Songs and Names, which have no REAL mechanical effect, I can find no advancement rules in the book, which is obviously exceedingly rare in RPGs.

 Definitely one of the most unique offerings I've seen, Some very evocative writing art struggle against a system that I'm skeptical of in play, and before I recommend this to Savages, I would have loved to have seen a draft of the Savage Worlds rules for this, especially since they have the Kickstarter titled as "Packs! - A Fluffy Horror RPG for Savage Worlds", but partnering with Studio 2 and being a German Savage Worlds publisher already puts some of those fears to rest...and I'm morbidly curious about the crossover with the Super Powers Companion, of all things.