Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tommy's Take on The Goon RPG

Got a chance to crack into the second book in Pinnacle's current double shot Kickstarter, The Goon. People say they sometimes like to hear my thoughts on these things, so here we are.
CONFESSIONS: Like with Fear Agent, I had heard of The Goon before this, but knew nothing of the setting. I have freelanced with Pinnacle on a couple of projects in the past, but have no such current dealings with them. I was given a review copy of this book (pending final edits), in exchange for this review.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: As of this writing, the Kickstarter has just under two weeks left to go and is not only funded, but has pushed through four stretch goals. In addition, The Goon Kickstarter is a beneficiary of the "Unstretch Goal", which adds the Deadlands Players and Marshal's books, ETU, the Rippers Resurrected Player's and GM's book and The Last Parsec to your pledge. Pledges start at $25 for the PDF up to $180 for everything, including minis. The book itself is 192 pages, but it does require the Savage Worlds rules to play.

So what is The Goon? A comic book by Eric Powell, it's classified as "zombie noir", about The Goon - an undead thug who now runs one of the local mobs in a war with the subtly named Zombie Priest, who is really just a harbinger for something way, way worse...and may actually be an infamous fairy tale character. So this "zombie noir" setting is chock full of weird stuff of all stripes, complete with old timey, 1940s-esque mob tropes, and a tone that swings from tragedy to comedy, all with a horror veneer. Basically a mafia turf war with monsters.

I have no hesitation endorsing Pinnacle from a production standpoint, as I have backed multiple Kickstarters by them, which have been fulfilled without issue.


- Character creation is pretty wide open here. You can play humans, but there's a good chance you won't. The race creation rules are in place here, so you can work with the GM to cook up a race that fits your character if the included options (Bog Lurks, Fishmen, Hobos - yes, as a race, Slackjaws - zombies, just a little smarter than you might be used to, Spiders and Werewolves). These are all examples represented in the source material, but it's a pretty gonzo, kitchen sink setting, so if you need to cobble up something else, the guidelines are there to support it. Wanna play a sewer dwelling rat person who serves as an informant (a literal "rat fink")? Easy enough to build, and fits the world around it.

- To go along with the zaniness of the setting, you can take Arcane Backgrounds. The specifically included ones are Magic (which encompasses psychics, voodoo, sorcery, whatever) and Weird Science. A third option exists, Black Magic, but it's only for the bad guys, you see. That's okay. Regular Magic (and Weird Science) is bad enough, and can put a taint on your soul, represented by your Virtue score, a new statistic that can be whittled down by not only magic, but doing terrible things. The further the slip, the more you go out of your mind. That said, there are ways to "heal" your Virtue, namely by remembering to be human once in a while.

- Much like Fear Agent and Deadlands before it, The Goon has a mechanic for playing more experienced than Novice characters (ostensibly balanced alongside people playing Novice characters). That would be the Made Man Edge, which firmly ensconces your character as a Seasoned (literally) headbanger, though you have a random table to roll on that gives you an additional hang up to balance it out, usually being a new Hindrance. Don't Get 'im Riled from Deadlands reappears here as Raging Bull (lets you add your Wound penalties to your damage rolls), and I really, really love the  Knife to the Eye! Edge, which basically lets you try to get a super cheap shot in on an unsuspecting mook.

- Much is made of tone in the book, and this extends to a meta level. Each Savage Tale - called a "Grievous Yarn" here, is marked with a Comedy or Tragedy mask. The Goon, apparently, has some pretty big tonal swings, and you should decide before hand whether Comedy or Tragedy is the flavor of the day. This matters to you (and all players) because it will activate - or deactivate - Setting rules. In a Comedy adventure, Weird **** happens. In a Tragedy adventure, plot armor is off and anyone can die (there is a Setting rule that basically makes it almost impossible to die, ala a Supers game). That doesn't mean there shouldn't be dramatic weight in a Comedy adventure, or a few laughs in a Tragedy adventure...but there will definitely be a dominant tone. Also, to stress again - the tone is set for the *adventure* and not the *campaign*.

What? Too much?
Note: This is copyright me and Werner Mueck
and not from The Goon. It just seemed like it
would fit right in.
- Speaking of adventures, there is plenty of adventure support here. A full, eight adventure Plot Point Campaign is included, with guidelines that fit it into the timeline of The Goon comic. It assumes your characters are part of The Goon's gang, then (small spoiler) takes him off the field so your guys really have to step up and shine. Numerous Grievous Tales are included, even one that serves as a party starter to bring the characters together if you need such a hook. In addition to all of that, The Goon includes the Savage Worlds mainstay - the random plot generator, this one powered by die rolls with a dash of card draws. First, you decide if you're going with Comedy or Tragedy. In this case, let's say Comedy. Then you ask "What's the plan?" A d20 tells us...surveillance. So we just gotta lay eyes on someone. Then Thicken the Plot with a card draw and check the suit, then roll on a random table. Drawing the Jack of Spades, I roll up an enemy. A goblin, in fact! A second die roll tells us it's one that's been tortured. A second card draw also comes up a Spade, and the resulting die roll is 2d6 Orangutans, because why not? Rolling a d4 gives us a 1, so we need to pitch one more element in...Diamonds give us cold, hard cash. Now, we need a big twist, so one more d20 roll says...an Interdimensional Portal! Maybe the guys are sent to trail these Orangutans who are up to no good, and track them out to the Goblin's bog. Turns out, he owes 'em a big stash of money (or they just want to take it). In the process, they accidentally open a portal to Who Knows Where, and God Knows What comes out! (My vote is for a giant naked man with a Censored bar across his crotch and tentacles on his face.)

- The last thing I need to mention is the Equipment chapter. Look, I largely gloss over these things in reviews, because usually an equipment chapter is an equipment chapter is an equipment chapter. This is the strangest equipment chapter I have ever seen in a Savage Worlds book, and I feel like I need to read The Goon to really get the jokes here. But, in case you were wondering, a platypus will run you $38.75. And while you COULD throw dynamite at your enemies, you can also throw an inflatable chicken at them. Also, ETU didn't even have rules for using a Golf Club in combat...but here it is in The Goon. It's...an impressive list. Seriously.

CONCLUSION: So here's the thing with The Goon and Fear Agent: Reading The Fear Agent RPG, I really feel like I got enough out of the book that I could run it, no problem. All the aliens are there, all the major setting stuff. Anyone who wasn't a hardcore Fear Agent guy, I could handle. With The Goon, the book certainly feels complete, information-wise, The Town, The Goon, his buddies, all his enemies...heck, even an unstatted cameo from another famous (the most famous?) Dark Horse hero...but, not to take anything away from Matthew Cutter's writing, which is certainly evocative, it also feels like it's going to be missing that essential spark if you're not familiar with the source material going in. The zombie noir aesthetic is...unique. This isn't Deadlands Noir. Those guys are far too serious for The Goon, despite the superficial similarities. So...I'm not sure I can recommend running The Goon without reading The Goon. I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable trying it, anyway. (To be fair, the RPG specifically says this at the beginning of chapter 5.) However, as I was finishing this review up, I had another tab up shopping Amazon (don't give me any grief...I don't have a local comic shop closer than an hour away) for The Goon trade paperbacks, because reading the RPG made me *want* to read the comic book. This is my kind of setting. I love the craziness, and the mix of the absurd and the serious. That's pretty much how I run my games, regardless of how I'm "supposed" to run them, but The Goon has it baked in from the start. What's more, and this applies to Fear Agent as well, I'm impressed with how Pinnacle used the Setting Rules to bend Savage Worlds to fit the settings being adapted, without compromising the core of the system.