Who doesn't love Barbarians? Precis Intermedia has released the second edition of Barbarians Versus... (Vile Reptilian Invaders from Outer Space), a fairly lite and light hearted rpg about barbarians versus, well, vile reptilian invaders from outer space.
ETHICS IN GAME JOURNALISM DISCLAIMER: I was provided both a physical and a digital review copy of the game by the publisher. In addition, some links in this review may contain an affiliate code for me, and purchases using those codes may provide me with store credit.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This review covers the physical version of the book, a tiny, digest sized book of 68 pages. You can get it for $5 in PDF at RPGNow, or you can get a print and PDF bundle for $13 at Precis Intermedia's website. It is worth noting that if you want to try the PDF first, you can buy it at Precis Intermedia's site, and then pay the difference to upgrade to print.
The RPG isn't comedy per se, but it is very tongue in cheek and light hearted. Players create Barbarians who live in The North and occasionally pillage The South after crossing the Grey Peaks...but now, the Barbarians must battle vile reptilian invaders from out space, and that's bad.
Characters each belong to a Clan, which has a special ability they can call on to provide bonus dice to an action (they all function largely the same, with different flavor). From there, you spend a pool of 20 points on five stats (Smash, Throw, Feet, Craftiness and Contemplation), and then four special abilities (Instant Kill gives bonus damage dice, Arcane Comprehension means you aren't completely lost around technology, Double Down means you can sometimes hit multiple enemies, etc). You pay for Items with a similar pool, defining what they are and how they help, with the points spent determining the bonus. You will also define what your Barbarian bleeds for and what he cries for essentially the trigger situations that give him bonuses and penalties. Oh, and he needs a war cry.
The core mechanic is a d10 dice pool system in which you roll an attribute plus any bonus dice or minus any penalty dice and add up the total, comparing it to a target number or an opposed roll. Damage, for instance, is based on the difference in the two rolls. There are even a few surprising tactical options, like called shots, where you subtract two dice, but double damage on a success or subtracting two dice from a Smash attack to disarm an opponent. Advancement is a bit unusual in that you gain Fame & Fortune Points which translate into Learning points, which can be used to advance your character...but at the end the adventure, whoever comes out with the highest Fame & Fortune sees their Legend increase, and at Legend 5, they have usually done all they are really going to do and head out into the next phase of their existence (retiring the character).
The GM section includes rules on how to make aliens for the Barbarians to fight, as well as a great section on locations for the Barbarian to visit and ideas for scenes there, as well as items they can find.
Two alternate settings are provided, the first being Barbarians versus Dwarves (who are coming up from below and not getting along with the Barbarians) and Barbarians versus Zombies, which is a whole other can of worms. A short and basic adventure is included, as well as some Barbarian archetypes.
SIX POINT SUMMARY
- Random Barbarian Facts (Barbarians argue with Barbarians, they fight with everyone else) are scattered around the book and are pretty humorous.
- The game reads like it's hard to take seriously, and the adventure backs that up by being too lite. A good, goofy random adventure table could have gone a long ways here.
- The system is simple, but easy to play around with, as evidenced by some of the combat options. Some of those examples serve as a nice example of how a little description can sell the action more than tables of modifiers can.
- The price point is pretty good, especially with the "read the PDF, upgrade to the print" option.
- The sample settings can give you more ideas on how to tweak the setting. Barbarians vs Elves? Barbarians vs Vampires? Barbarians vs Underground Psychic Bomb Worshippers? Most of the book focuses on Barbarians...you can play around with it and figure out who they fight.
- Because this stuff MATTERS in a game about Barbarians, you also get a random loot table to make the GM's job easier when determining what the Barbarians' latest victims had.
Barbarians Versus is a cute and fun book with a solid skeleton under it, and options that allow a GM to play around with the setting, suitable for a one shot or short campaign play and priced accordingly.