RPG Catch-Up, Part 7

I fail at blogging. I thought I’d posted this a couple months back, but I just noticed that it was still sitting in drafts. Anyhow, this marks the last installment of catching up on my pdf collection for a while. I got through a decent chunk of them. And, of course, I’ve collected more on the way. I’ll do some more of these at some point.

Polaris, by Ben Lehman

A lot of mixed feelings on this. The premise is kind of interesting. Basically (very basically) what amounts to a perfect society that fell to terrible corruption. The background doesn’t really grab me, but the themes of corruption and tragedy and such are pretty appealing.

The one thing I knew about Polaris before reading the pdf is probably the thing I find most interesting. It’s a GM-less game, and depending on who is currently the spotlight character (called the Heart or protagonist), then the other people at the table will have different roles. Whoever is across from the Heart is the Mistaken, which amounts to the opposition (demons, generally). And to either side are the Moons, who mostly control less-central NPCs and they also act as judges during conflicts between the Heart and the Mistaken. So, as play goes around, your role in a given scene will be different. That’s pretty neat.

The conflict mechanics themselves didn’t do as much for me as I thought they would. The game has a number of key phrases that are used to start the game, start scenes, and do things in a conflict. Normally I’m a big fan of this sort of thing (I usually refer to it as ritualistic mechanics). But, for whatever reason all the different key phrases in Polaris just don’t really interest me. But, basically, a conflict is a negotiation between the Heart and the Mistaken and the key phrases put some structure on that, which mostly boils down to demanding more, demanding less, saying no, or saying yes. There are rules when different phrases can be used and how, but that’s the gist. And depending on the phrase used a die roll may come up to resolve the conflict.

There’s a few stats which come into play in the conflict and there are also aspects that are trait-like that can be used to guide the conflict as well as exhausted (and can later be refreshed) to be able to say certain key phrases.

Another thing I really like is that characters start out as novice knights and have a Zeal stat of 4. As play progresses Zeal will reduce and eventually turn into Weariness when they become a veteran. And if Weariness gets high enough they basically get corrupted and probably become a part of the demons. I definitely like that slide into tragedy aspect of the game.

Overall I’m not quite as interested in it as I thought I’d be with as much good things as I’ve heard about. And of course, it may feel very different in play than just reading. So I’m definitely not outright refusing to ever play. I’d absolutely give it a shot, but I think I have slightly more realistic expectations for it now than I would have before.

Remember Tomorrow, by Gregor Hutton

Remember Tomorrow is a futuristic somewhat cyberpunk game. Parts of it are intriguing, but it’s a little too PVP-focused for my tastes.

One thing that’s interesting is that there are a pool of characters & factions that any one can play/represent if they wish (also every player gets a held character that only they get to play). Characters and factions all have goals they’re trying to achieve. Generally at the expense of other characters.

Characters have 3 stats: Ready, Willing, & Able. In a conflict, 3d10 (minimum, there’s a way to augment that) are rolled and allocated to the ready/willing/able stats. If a die value is less than/equal to a stat, it’s a success. Successes determine an overall scene winner as well as outcomes that can be purchased. Outcomes can be things that directly benefit a character/faction or negatively impacts a character/faction. Also, when  you succeed with ready/willing/able you mark down a check for those, individually. Once you have a check for all 3 you accomplish your goal and get to narrate how it happens.

On top of stats are positive conditions & negative conditions. Basically they’re used to help/hinder you in a conflict. Those can be gained/removed (or given to other characters) with outcomes.

Gameplay sounds simple and I really like the way it sounds, but the focus is definitely on pitting factions and characters against each other, which doesn’t hold a lot of interest for me. I don’t mind some amount of pvp in a game, sometimes, but I don’t particularly like it to be the focus.

I’d definitely get Remember Tomorrow a try as a one-shot, but I don’t think I’d be interested in anything more than that.

The Agency, by Matt Machell

The Agency is about 60s-era spies/secret agents working against supernatural forces. And, aside from the obvious fictional elements of supernatural forces, it’s meant to be a very stylized version of Britain in the 60s.

Agents can be pretty much everyone. Usually they get involved when they discover something or are aware of the supernatural forces and so they get recruited. Characters can be anything from a butcher, to an ex-marine. Or whatever else.

There’s a fairly standard array of skills for fighting, talking, sneaking, etc. One of these you’re really good at with a rating of 5, another you’re quite good at with a rating of 4, everything else is a 3.

In addition, all characters have an heroic bonus and an heroic flaw.

There are also motifs which are recurring fictional elements. It could be a them or a location, specific actions, whatever. They’re there to be brought in to flesh out a scene/the setting and provide bonuses for doing so.

Lastly is Karma, which can be earned by bringing in a flaw.  Karma can then be used to help out later.

Resolution is a fairly straightforward die-pool roll. Rolling a number of d6’s based on your skill and counting the number of successes (being a 4, 5, or 6). More successes and you win. Also more successes allow you to narrate further elements into the scene. And the roll can be modified by karma, or bonuses or maybe something the GM has up their sleeve based on the villain/threat.

The premise sounds fun and resolution is pretty straightforward with some fun ways to modify it. Looks like it’d be a lot of fun. Not necessarily at the top of my “must play” list, but definitely something I’d like to give a shot at some point.

Time & Temp, by Epidiah Ravachol

In the world of Time & Temp there’s a company, Browne Chronometric Engineering, Inc that strives to protect time by finding and fixing time-based anomalies, anachronisms, and other temporal-based threats. All in an effort to prevent a paradox from ever happening, which would immediately cause everything to no longer exist.

But the best part of the game is how time travel works in this world: basically the bigger/more important your presence the more impact you have on time and so the more likely any changes would lead to bad things. So, BCE’s answer is to only use temp workers to travel through time to fix anomalies and what not.  So, not only do you have temps doing extremely important work by travelling through time, but they’re also doing it in a corporate setting where temps are the lowest rung on the ladder and looked down on by everyone else. Fantastic.

Really, as soon as I got my head around the premise/setting info, I was hooked.

As far as resolution in the game there’s a few pieces to it, but they fit together and are explained well in the text. Basically, you’ll gather a pool of dice based on how much effort the character is willing to put forth, how wide-ranging the impact of the task might be and possible bonuses. Lower numbers help the character succeed, but they are more likely to cause problems on the timeline. So once you roll you can succeed completely by using the lowest result. Or you can decide to fail or just take incidents (possible complication, etc) to choose a higher number. There’s a little strategy involved here based on The Matrix.

The Matrix is a grid of squares where players track numbers. Whenever a number is chosen from a roll it goes in The Matrix. There’s rules for how they can be placed, which is pretty straightforward, and there are things that can happen to cause numbers to move around. Number placement can cause anomalies to happen, but if placed in specified patterns they can earn the players synchronicity which is a powerful resource to be used by the players.

The other thing that can happen is building toward a paradox as too many similar numbers get placed next to each other on The Matrix. There’s an Anachronometer (an in-game device as well as something to be tracked by the GM) that tracks a possible Paradox. As it starts to fill up it’s more & more likely a paradox could happen, which means all of reality never happened. So, obviously the players want to avoid that happening.

That’s the majority of the mechanics. There are also rules for how villains work and what kind of havoc they can wreak. There’s also a number of ways players can earn bonuses or otherwise aid them somehow with a die roll.

The last fun thing are a number of setting-appropriate things. Like, the characters have CVs, which details some things they are good at. They can also be written up with incident reports. And they have quarterly reviews. Lots of silly/annoying managerial bureaucratic stuff that just gets in the way of doing their job sometimes.

Before I even got to the meat of the game I knew I wanted to play it. The introduction is basically an “Employee’s Handbook” that’s filled with plenty of info about the setting. It was a really fun read and I knew immediately I wanted to play in that world sometime. Definitely one I want to get a chance to play sometime.

Wilderness of Mirrors, by John Wick

I bought this a while ago since I’m a sucker for spy stuff, but never got around to reading it.

As laid out in the game, Wilderness of Mirrors revolves around 3 main aspects of spy stories: expertise (being first level chumps is boring), trust (you never know who you can trust), and planning.

Spies tend to be hyper-competent in at least one area, and pretty damn awesome in a lot of others. In Wilderness of Mirrors, that’s covered by “Areas of Expertise”. There are 5 of them (with some non-standard names):

  • Saturn. Team leader. Organizes people.
  • Mars. Hitman. Kills to get what they want.
  • Mercury. Faceman. Lies to get what they need.
  • Vulcan. Fixer. Uses technology.
  • Pluto. Shade. Stays in the dark. Steals to get what they need.

AoEs are assigned with a fairly straightforward point buy system.

Planning is probably the most interesting aspect of Wilderness of Mirrors. Operations (the GM) will give only the premise of a mission, like “go here and do this”. And that’s it. Then the players narrate every aspect of the mission.  The opposition, how they’re organized, where the target is, how it’s protected. All the details, the good and the bad. Everything. As details are added, Operations keeps a running tally of Mission Points.

Now the players have a pool of Mission points which the Saturn will then allocate to the group. So, if an operation is going to be heavy on stealth, then the Saturn might give a lot of MPs to the Pluto of the group. Mission Points are spent to gain bonus dice on an Area of Expertise roll.

There’s also some special abilities related to each AoE. Whomever has the highest of a given AoE in the group is the expert at that and gets access to a special effect. If people are tied for an AoE, they can both use the effect, but it can only be triggered once per session. That’s nice, because it encourages diversity in the team.

When it comes time to roll the dice, it’s called taking a risk. And the result determines who gets to narrate the result. It might be full narration rights, or narration rights with a veto from the other side.

Next is Trust. Basically whenever a player actively acts against and sabotages another player, they get “trust dice”. And of course, Operations should be trying to encourage those sorts of actions. Also, aside from MPs, those trust dice are the only way to get extra dice to roll.

The last piece of the game is Time. Time is also a resource spies never have enough of. There’s a few options in the book of how to deal with that in the game and they all deal with some sort of resource in the game that’s based on real-life time. Like maybe reducing the values of rolls, or taking away MPs, or points that Operations can spend to increase their narrative control. Some really clever ideas that show how important time pressure can be.

Overall, a pretty rules-light system with some really interesting depth hidden beneath the surface. Definitely one I want to try. Like I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for spies.

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