Friday, March 31, 2017

Tommy's Take on Fear Agent The Roleplaying Game

As I noted the other day, Pinnacle has a pair of new Kickstarters running: Fear Agent and The Goon, both based on comics by Dark Horse.

Today, I decided to take a look at Fear Agent.

CONFESSIONS: I have a few. First: This book was written by John "Night Train" Goff. At the risk of sacrificing my credibility, I must point out that Mr. Goff and I are Facebook friends and former fantasy football rivals. I have also freelanced a couple of times for Pinnacle, notably on Savage Tales of Horror. I was provided a review copy of Fear Agent, in exchange for an honest review. I have heard of Fear Agent, but have never read a single issue. The manuscript I was provided is still missing some art and needs another strong proof reading pass, but I don't count that as knock against it because Pinnacle acknowledged this up front, and they do tend to tighten these things up before publication.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Fear Agent Kickstarter has already passed its funding goal (by $10,000) and is working on stretch goals. Rewards start as low as $25 (for the PDF) and go all the way to $150 (in hardcover, plus the GM screen, plus bennies, plus minis, plus an adventure, plus the PDF plus GM screen inserts).

Given that review PDFs are already available, I would guess that the PDF copies will drop shortly after payments are collected (by Pinnacle, not by Kickstarter, there's a lag there from you to Kickstarter to the project creator). The estimated delivery for the physical products is November 2017.

In my experience, as a customer who has backed multiple Pinnacle Kickstarters, they are a low risk investment in that regard. Products get completed and released. No fuss, no muss.

Also, Pinnacle added a HUGE update today, giving all backers free PDFs of the Deadlands Reloaded Player's Guide and Marshal's Handbook, the East Texas University book, the Ripper's Resurrected Player's Guide and GM's Handbook and the Last Parsec corebook as a "Savage Sampler". That's an *insane* value for anyone new to Savage Worlds.

So what is Fear Agent? Fear Agent is a comic book published by Dark Horse Comics and created by Rick Remender, Tony Moore and Jerome Opeña. So the premise is a space pulp comic with a dash of horror, military action and a bit of western to it. In 2007, Earth was brutally attacked by the Tetaldians. The Dressites, on behalf of the United Systems, came to Earth to help out, but humanity panicked and launched a three way war by attacking everyone who wasn't from Earth. Once the war was pretty well lost, a group was formed in Texas called the Fear Agents, who basically became guerrilla fighters against everyone that had invaded Earth.

So things have settled a bit, Earth is in the United Systems and humans (down to about a million people) are creeping out into the galaxy...aaaaand that's where you come in.

The book is 192 pages, but not self contained, as it does require the Savage Worlds core rules. There are no major changes to the expected Savage Worlds rules, as expected, so you'll find most things here largely compatible with anything that hews close to the official Savage Worlds releases. While you will surely find bits from the Sci-Fi Companion that are usable in Fear Agent, it is worth stressing that all the rules you will *need* are in this book and the core book.


- The (first set, anyway) of Setting Rules are culled from the Sci-Fi Companion, such as the effects of various atmospheres and gravity. There's a whole chapter on custom spaceships present as well, which is largely material restated - of not outright reprinted - from the Sci-Fi Companion. That said, other Setting Rules touch on Time Travel and Alternate Dimensions (though these are less "rules" and more "these things come up in the setting sometimes). There is a chart for when a navigator screws up setting a course for the Warp Drive that is pretty spectacular (ranging from catastrophic breakdowns to increased fuel use to time passing differently for the ship to the ship being thrown through time. Oh, and getting a ship isn't too hard. If your GM approves, you can take the Captain Edge to start off with a ship.

- The game assumes you are playing a human, and so the rules for creating races are not present. If you really wanna play something other than a human, you will be taking one of the many included NPC aliens and reverse engineering. That said, I counted more than twenty NPC aliens, providing plenty of variety in that regard. On top of that, several Professional Templates are provided as well, which basically serve as modifiers for the base racial stat block to provide you with variety on the fly. For instance, the Pirate listing provides modifiers for Extras (drops Smarts by 1, add lots of skills Pirates would use, plus Bloodthirsty and Greedy), but the Pirate Captain template makes an NPC into a Wild Card and gives a different set of ability modifiers. Seems like something we should have seen before, but if it's popped up in a previous book, I'm not remembering it. Incredibly useful in settings with multiple races.

- A couple of my favorite Hindrances are Dark Secret (Major) and Short Temper (Minor). The former gives you a -4 penalty if anyone ever discovers it, and replaces it with Wanted (Major) or Enemy (Major) as appropriate if it goes public. The latter makes you more susceptible to Taunts in Tests of Wills, what with the temper. Lech is a Hindrance in the vein of Short Temper, but it makes you susceptible to Persuasion in Tests of Will or Social Conflicts. I don't immediately recall Persuasion even being usable in Tests of Wills (and it is supposed to be useless against player characters, anyway). I'm not mad at the change. Quite the opposite, I quite like it...but I'm also drawing a blank on the precedent for it. On the Edges side, the eponymous Fear Agent Edge is social based, giving Intimidation bonuses against non humans and Charisma bonuses towards friendly humans. The other interesting Edge here is Clone, which is functionally the same as Veteran of the Weird West in Deadlands, allowing you to start at Seasoned...with a drawback. Just like with VotWW, you draw a card and give it to the GM, who takes note and tells you if it's something you should know...and tucks it away for later if you shouldn't. In exchange? You get to start as Seasoned.

- I have to mention the Tony Moore art. Tony Moore was the co-creator of The Walking Dead, where he continued to do the covers for a while. Well, his art is all over this book, and that's a good thing to me. For a guy like me, who hasn't read Fear Agent, it helps sell the setting, conveying both the sci-fi craziness and a certain grittiness that is inherent in his art.

- There is a random adventure generator included, which I am always a huge fan of. Early Savage Worlds generators were dice based, but these days they tend towards card draws. In this case, you make three draws and figure out the elements from there. For instance (actual random card draws against the table because I'm a geek about random tables): I drew the King of Clubs for the Objective. The suit mean the adventure has Innocent Beginnings, so the heroes are just thrust into circumstances through no action of their own. The value means it's espionage. Spies by happenstance, then. 9 of Hearts for Obstacle gives us a Wild Card with 1d6 Extras a henchmen, and the value tells us they are Pest (there's a table for that). My roll of a 5 gives us 1d4 devourers, which are any number of giant, carnivorous beasts...more of an archetype than an actual creature type. Finally, I drew a 4 of Diamonds for the Complication. This makes it a monetary Complication (costing about $2000), and the card value says it's Rivals. Maybe the target is a smuggler or slave trafficker with a creepy security system (the devourers)? Maybe some mercs that the players have crossed before show up, looking to rob the smuggler, but are hard up enough for money that the players can pay them off to distract/take out the devourers, allowing the players the chance to steal info on the mark's dealers to try to break the chain of slaving? Heck, maybe they are bushwhacked by the rival Mercs on behalf of the slaver, and just turn the tables through checkbook heroism when they realize the bad guy is tied into bigger and badder things (like providing "entertainment" to politicians in the United Systems)?

- The last thing I want to talk about is the Plot Point Campaign. Yes, the book includes one, as well as Savage Tales. It's a 6 episode campaign, so you'll surely need to pad it out (with Savage Tales or random adventures or whatever). But here's the interesting kicker: The campaign starts you at Seasoned. No big deal, right? Well, when you make your Seasoned characters, you are expected to hold on to the Novice versions. Why? Turns out, flashbacks play a big role in the narrative of Fear Agent, it seems...and so Pinnacle has included this in the campaign. How? Though Flashback adventures, largely set during the initial invasion and war that devastated Earth. The recommendation is to play certain Flashbacks before certain Plot Points, and the book guides you on what version of the characters to use (the Novice sheet may be used in one adventure, whereas a Novice with two Advances might be called for in another flashback). But wait, if your characters have already advanced to Seasoned, what is your "carrot" for playing through these flashbacks? Well, anyone who "dies" or becomes Incapacitated during a Flashback is assumed to have somehow survived because, well, they're around to become Seasoned. But heroes who make it through intact get to start the Plot Point with both an extra benny *and* an Adventure Card draw (if you use the Adventure Deck...which I highly recommend). It's a really unique way to run the Plot Point campaign, and one I heartily approve of. My only gripe is that there is no mention of how to handle players taking the Clone Edge, which already starts them as Seasoned...would they then be Veterans? Should the Edge not be used at all? And while I haven't seen the Fear Agent character sheet, it will be a massive misstep if it lacks the numbered Advancement list many sheets do, which would make running the Flashbacks in this campaign a snap.

CONCLUSION: I haven't decided yet if I'm backing the Kickstarter. Fact is, my gaming group is in rebuilding mode, and I've gotten a little stingier about buying things I'm not sure I'll use...and I'm not sure if Fear Agent would get used. That said, I love the take on the Plot Point campaign. Just a great way to handle a narrative device in RPGs that's honestly hard to tackle. The back is packed with some really strong material, including some new twists that probably need to trickle into future Savage Worlds products (like the Professional Templates for any game with multiple races). The Un-Stretch Goal Savage Sampler for backers makes this an absolutely insane deal for anyone who doesn't own most of these settings already...I mean, Deadlands and ETU alone are brilliant, and Last Parsec and Rippers Resurrected are great products in their own right. I can't speak to how faithfully it adapts Fear Agent, since I've never read it, but there is plenty of information in this book that I feel like I could run a game set in the Fear Agent setting and make it pop for maybe anyone except Fear Agent fans. I'm not a big sci-fi or military guy, but I do like scrappy fighters on the fringes of society who roll up their sleeves and punch more powerful adversaries in the face, and Fear Agent has that in spades.

Worth your consideration if you like sci-fi, and give it serious thought if you're Savage Worlds collection is pretty small and you're somehow missing out on some of the "must-have" settings. Proceed with caution if you like your sci-fi Star Trek-sanitized. Fear Agents aren't those kinds of sci-fi heroes.