Sunday, May 27, 2018

Tommy's Take on Amazing Adventures

Dungeons & Dragons begat Castles & Crusades, and Castles & Crusades begat Amazing Adventures, a "Siege Engine Game for The Pulp Era".


TRUTH IN GAMING JOURNALISM DISCLAIMER: This review used affiliate links for RPGNow. Using those links may provide me with store credit at RPGNow, which is typically used for purchases that later get reviewed on this blog. No review copy was provided for this article; I paid for the PDF myself. I do consider the author, Jason Vey, an online friend, though this review was unsolicited.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Published by Troll Lord Games, publishers of Castles & Crusades, Amazing Adventures is a Pulp Era Siege Engine game. In a nutshell, the Siege engine is AD&D 2nd Edition filtered through a D&D 3rd Edition lens, via the OGL. The PDF is available at RPGnow for $10, and you can get the print book off of the Troll Lord Games website for $30.  There's also a PDF bundle that includes the core book, the Manual of Monsters, the Companion, the Book of Powers and a pair of adventures.

The PDF is 240 pages and black and white, with dense, dual-column layout, packing a lot of information into those 240 pages. A short piece of pulp fiction and an introduction to the pulp genre lead the book off.

"Book One" is all about character creation. If you've done D&D or C&C, you know the drill: Your six ability scores are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma, and while the default generation is a 45 point buy, the classic "Roll 4d6, drop the lowest, arrange as desired" is left in as an optional sidebar. The core mechanic is a Siege check, where you roll a d20, add any relevant bonuses (including character level), and try to beat a Challenge Class (or CC). The base CC will be determined by whether the acting ability score is Primary or Secondary (each character will have three of each). The character classes are more fitting to the Pulp genre, of course:

Arcanist - Arcanists use Mana Energy Points to cast spells, using their mystical skills to unravel the mysteries of the world and thwart those powerful forces that would subjugate humanity. Their approach to magic is based on whether they are an Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma caster.

Gadgeteer - Heroes who use a variety of gadgets to fight evil, simulated by replicating spell effects (just changing the trappings, as it were). Gadgeteers can either create their own gadgets, or have an inventor that does it for them, with pros and cons for both.

Gumshoes - Your typical hardboiled detective. These guys sneak and investigate, but will draw the attention of dangerous folks as they get higher in level.

Hooligan - Similar to the Gumshoe in design, but with more of a criminal bent, with Sneak Attacks and Back Attacks. More "breaking and entering" and less "tracking".

Mentalist - These guys harness their own mental energy to fight crime and stop evil, rather than manipulating arcane power.

Pugilist - They may or may not like to fight...but they're sure good at it. Whether they are bare knuckled boxers or traveling monks, these are top notch hand to hand fighters.

Raider - Think "of the Lost Ark" variety. Part archaeologist, part Devil-May-Care rogue. Tends toward guns, especially in knife fights, and whips.

Socialite - Wanna play a "face man"? This is it. These people are pretty, connected, wealthy, smooth talkers whose gift of gab and force of personality borders on the supernatural.

Two different Multiclassing options are provided, one that just melds two classes together, and a second that has you pick a class to advance with each level, similar to 3e multiclassing. A third option (Class and a Half) lets you pick one class, then supplement it with the abilities of a second class.

The alignment axis you are familiar with in AD&D is here, as well as Fate Points. Fate Points can be spent to alter die rolls, avoid attacks, succeed at Saving Throws, hit a crushing Mighty Blow, double your movement, heal up, avoid death and creatively edit the scene to catch a break. Book one rounds out with Pulp-appropriate equipment

Book Two is "advanced rules". This includes Generic Class Abilities that characters can gain by dropping one of their class abilities and replacing from this list, which includes things like Animal Handling, Medicine, Tracking, or even gaining Ability Score enhancing abilities like Powerhouse, Nimble and Overwhelming Personality.

Backgrounds are basically a one or two word descriptor of what your character did before they became a Pulp Hero, and when that comes up in play, you can invoke it to gain a bonus (beginning at +2) on relevant rolls. Maybe you came from the Mean Streets, or maybe you were a Politician before your eyes were opened to the arcane mysteries of the world.

Characters can swap out Languages at the beginning of the game for Knowledge Skills, which are specific fields of study like Arcane Symbols, History (specified by type), Politics, Pop Culture, etc. Characters can also start off with two Traits, chosen or randomly rolled, which have Benefits and Drawbacks. For instance, Aggressive characters gain initiative bonuses, but have a penalty to Armor Class, while Dishonest people can bluff people, but have penalties when trying to be diplomatic. You can buy these traits off with experience points, but the higher the level, the harder it is to get rid of these traits (happens when you get set in your old age).

Optional Sanity rules are provided if you want to go grittier and more Lovecraftian, and optional rules are also provided for Reputation, and a fluid  Wealth system (rather than tracking every dollar or penny a character has).

Book Three is all about powers and magic. Psionic powers risk psychic backlash, for instance. If you try to reach beyond yourself, you may succeed...or you may risk knocking yourself out and leaving yourself vulnerable. Psionic powers are sometimes fairly basic, but a few are "gateway" powers that can emulate more effects. For instance, Mental Stun is pretty straight forward: You fire a mental bolt at a foe and do non-lethal damage, trying to knock them loopy, but Pyrokinesis allows the Mentalist to duplicate any fire based arcane spell. As Mentalists level up, they can take Advanced powers like Mind Control and Telemagry (which creates illusions in the minds of their victims). There are plenty of powers, so there should be opportunity for variety among Mentalists, especially at lower levels.

Magic uses Mana Energy Points for spells, but also requires a Spellcraft check. On a failure, the Arcanist suffers spellburn. But that's just the start. Out of MEP and you're about to get killed? You can attempt to channel your own Life Energy into a spell, spending Constitution points to power your magic. You can also channel your MEP to counter another Arcanist's spell, rather than just casting a spell of your own. Dragon Lines can also be tapped into to reduce MEP cost, or you can go to a Nexus, or Site of Power, where the Lines intersect and really make casting easier.

The spell list available to the Arcanist is based on the attribute they chose as their base. Intelligence focuses on a scientific approach to magic to cast spells like Comprehend Languages, Contact Other Plane, Summon Monster, Time Stop and even Wish. Those who harness magic on a more religious level use Wisdom to cast spells like Turn Undead, Animate Dead, Cure Serious Wounds, Creeping Doom and Raise Dead. Charisma casters are enchanters and hypnotists, casting spells like Hypnotism, Charm Person or Animal, Illusory Wall, Trap the Soul and Astral Projection. Some of the spell lists have crossover, but a certain type of caster may get the spell much sooner than another, based on their discipline.

Book 4 gets into the rules and just how everything works. One thing that stands out over your standard d20 mechanic is that when you roll a natural 20, you get to add a d6 to the roll, which can also keep exploding. On the other hand, rolls can "implode". If you roll a 1, you roll a d6 and SUBTRACT it, and it can keep imploding if you keep rolling sixes.

Saving Throws are based off the six Ability Scores, and the book provides guidelines on what effects might trigger a certain Saving Throw.

Combat will be pretty familiar for your d20 types, with multiple tactical options presented. Death is on the -10 standard (you die at -10 HP). Natural 20s are Critical Hits, and all bonus d6s you rolled for the Critical hit are also added to your final damage, so an insane Critical Hit should largely guarantee a certain level of damage is done.
  
Book 5 is the GMing chapter, essentially. This includes handling character death, when to award Fate Points, and how to structure an adventure.

Book 6 is the Rogue's Gallery. This starts with building Secret Societies, and includes multiple examples of a heroic and villainous bent. A sample set of NPCs are included as members of The Brotherhood of William St. John, but can also be used as pregenerated characters if you just wanna give the game a test drive. Several generic villains are included like Thugees, Mob Soldiers and Nazi officers, in simple and easy to read stat blocks. Guidelines are included for creating monsters, before providing a list of creatures, both mundane and fantastic. This includes bears, apes, and great cats, as well as old standards such as mummies, werewolves (with loose guidelines for lycanthropy), and vampires (these maintain the old standard of losing a level or hit die with a drain, if you're not a fan of that mechanic).

Book 7 is an adventure for 3-5 1st level characters which, interestingly, means the pregenerated characters in the book are way too powerful for it. Spoilers below:

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The adventure begins with a murder in a crowded nightclub, and it'll take questioning the crowd to get a solid lead. A Gumshoe has a shot of recognizing the victim's companion, but I'd probably also let a Socialite have a shot as well, given that she's a Socialite herself. Then things take a turn and we get zombie attack as the victim lunges up and attacks a cop. This two person zombie outbreak is fairly easy to avoid if your players aren't too worried about interfering with crime scenes, as the dart used to kill the victim is what triggers the zombification, and the victim is assumed to still have it in his neck when he attacks the cop. The text also seems to have a weird reference to the companion's husband's, but it's her brother that was killed in the attack. The husband doesn't factor in until later in the adventure. It's either an error, or just a weirdly out of place bit of text, and it must be an error, because the husband's missing and not dead.

In Act Two, any PCs with Arcane or Psionic powers start having weird dreams, and the next day the PCs are visited by the woman from the club, who also appeared in the dream, seeking their help finding her missing husband because the police have sat on it for a week. Poor lady's having a rough go of it, with her brother being dead and her husband missing for the last week. From there the PCs get to investigate the husband's study, as well as tapping into police and mystical contacts (and if they don't have any, the client can suggest one), which starts piecing together her husband's dabbling in Things Man Were Not Meant To Know. This can lead to a trip to the Bayou, where more zombies emerge. They also find frightening warnings in their hotel rooms and now it looks like they are starting to find themselves knee deep in Nazi occultists.

In Act Three, the group is off to Saudi Arabia to hunt the client's husband, who is trying to find The Nameless City. Once they reach At-Taif, the group is left to their own devices to run down their leads and find the missing husband. A little investigative work turns up that the missing husband is mutilating himself in a manner similar to a Abdul Al-Hazred...the guy that is said to have authored the Necronomicon. And then Nazis arrive in full force in the city.

In Act Four, the PCs rush to find The Black City, chased by Thule Cultists and Nazis. In true Pulp fashion, the PCs are betrayed by their client, who is an Arcanist. The whole thing turns into a cluster schmozz...and then a Shoggoth is summoned by Abdul Al-Hazred, who is possessing the client's husband, at which point Getting The Fudge Outta Dodge seems like the better plan.

The early parts of the adventure seem a little clunky, with the villain showing up in the first act as her brother is killed, even though her husband has been missing for a week (and she seems to be legitimately worried about him, even though she's the heel...one of those Bad Guy Plans that got a little of out hand when he got possessed), and then she shows up the next day asking them to find her husband (though she at least has reason to believe they can handle themselves, having just watched them fight zombies).

The book ends with a character sheet.

THOUGHTS: The PDF is pretty no frills. No clickable links in the table of contents, no PDF index. The spells list LOOKS like it's indexed and clickable, but it was sure unresponsive when I tried to click on anything.

The adventure doesn't quite work for me, especially the first act, as noted above. It feels like the editing could have been tighter, at the least, given the mix-up I noted. It also feels like a missed opportunity to provide pregenerated characters, and then have an adventure that's too low of level for them.

I've never played Castles & Crusades (bought a corebook from Troll Lord at a convention years ago), but it looks like it has the same high level math problem that a lot of d20 games do. 

That said, the flexibility is amazing. Soooo many options for customization, including the multiclass variations and swapping out general abilities. All the extra little variations in magic (like Counterspells and Emergency Spells, as well as Dragon Lines and Places of Power) are really cool, too. All the optional rules that can be added to fit what you're wanting are more than welcome, and the game boasts almost complete compatibility with Castles & Crusades, so you can combine the two for all kinds of crazy action.

The bestiary selection is pretty small, but in a mostly realistic game, using mobsters and Nazis should be more common than fighting legions of monsters. 

CONCLUSION: The author insists that this more than "just" a pulp game, but that's largely what the core book does, and I suspect it does it well. I'm a little leery of that high level math, with the way the bonuses escalate. That said, if that's not a concern for you, this is a ridiculously flexible game with loads of pulp archetypes to use as your base and a great toolbox for modifying them. The author has mentioned that a 5e-based version is in the works, and if it can combine that base with all the great options and features in this book (I love bounded accuracy and flatter math), that should be a great pulp game. For this edition, I'd run it without reservation...I'd just be keeping a close eye on high level play.

Also, it is worth noting that the Companion and the Book of Powers expand the game significantly, but this review doesn't cover those, just the core. I'll try to crack into them soon.