Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Fresh from my FLGS

So, after a hard day's work at the computer last Friday preparing for Sunday's WFRP I decided to reward myself with another trip to Static. It turned out to be very timely, netting me a real bargain and something I've been waiting for for quite some time.

PARANOIA: Mandatory BONUS FUN Card Game
Many citizen readers will be remember Paranoia, the rpg by Greg Costyikan that turned roleplaying on its head with its wicked sense of humour some 20-odd years ago. Some of you might even have been tormen... Erm, had the privilege of loyally serving The Computer in the years since. Recently rereleased in a brand new edition by Mongoose Publishing, it is a game that has been on my 'Please let me express my undying loyalty' list ever since my first taste of life as a clone Troubleshooter many moons ago. So I was exactly as interested as you would expect of a loyal citizen to discover that Mongoose also do a Paranoia card game.

Imagine my horror then to discover this treasonous game on sale for half price (?!) in my FLGS, a real no brainer for me as soon as I saw it- leave well alone! Unfortunately some Traitor must've slipped a copy into my bag, because what should I find when I get home but somebody else's set of this DNCPCG (Definitely Not Collectable Paranoia Card Game). This feeble plot to besmirch the good reputation of JMcL63- the most humble of loyal servants of The All-Benevolent Computer- is doomed to failure. I am sure The Computer will understand upon reading my report.

PARANOIA: Mandatory BONUS FUN Card Game is one of those games that will prove to be either a damp squib because of the simplicity of its elements, or a real winner because of its humourous encouragement of evil backstabbing by your sadistic gaming buddies. It's a simple cardgame in which players vie to have the highest security clearance once the first player has lost all 6 of their Troubleshooter's clones.

The playing pieces are cards: Troubleshooter and Security Clearance cards to keep track of the status of the players' Troubleshooters; and Mission and Action cards for the gameplay. Play proceeds in rounds in which players vie to kill each other or have each other declared a traitor while trying to fulfil a mission set for them by The All-Wise Computer. At the end the mission the Mission Debriefing Phase determines the success or failure of the mission, and the results for the Troubleshooters' Security Clearances; and the Internal Security Investigation Phase determines the fate of Traitors. Oh yes, you can survive and succeed in the mission and still die.

The rules are simple and clear... No, no, no, this is a treasonous game: the rules are complicated and incomprehensible. Nothing makes any sense whatsoever. I read my way through the disappointingly thin rules manual sadly full of far too much padding over and over again, and I was no wiser after all that effort than I was after a first quick skim through the skimpy pages. This poor excuse for a game system is in no way helped by the 150 nicely printed cards and 156 colourful counters used to keep track of your Troubleshooter's status. No doubt The Computer could do much, much better.

If there is one good thing I can say about this game, it's the rule for choosing a Team Leader (1 player is the Team Leader, who starts the game with a higher Security Clearance than The Computer's other, somewhat more treasonous servants):
This can be done by random dice roll or, more appropriately, by having the game's owner proclaim himself Team Leader.
You can be sure that yours truly is going to enjoy that little rule (I waited over 20 years before I qualified to go first in Nuclear War by virtue of a similar rule).

But there isn't one good thing I can say about this game. There are two:
Note on pronoun usage: The Computer suggests any citizen concerned about this game's usage of 'he' for the generic third-person pronoun, instead of 'he' or 'she', should attend to more important matters, such as serving The Computer with fervent loyalty.
The Computer is All Wise and All Benevolent.

Mutants and Masterminds: Freedom City
As a longtime fan of superhero roleplaying suffering from HERO-system burnout and looking for a suitable alternative, I got myself a copy of Mutants and Masterminds: 2nd Edition as soon as I could last year. I was very impressed by the system and the production both. Here, I felt, was a superhero game that I wanted to run.

So, looking for as easy a life as possible as a GM, I thought it'd be interesting to try something in M&M's own setting: Freedom City. My wait for the arrival of the new edition of this setting product ended when I walked into Static last Friday, and it was a real no-brainer that I was going to get myself a copy as soon as I saw it on the racks.

Wow! If anything I'm even more impressed with Freedom City than I am with the M&M core rules. Why do I say this?

Well, M&M gives you exactly what you'd want from a core rulebook for an rpg. You get a good system that immediately serves to awaken your interest in playing the game, including some nice new mechanics that really hit the spot- the Hero point rules in M&M are rules I'm really rather keen to see in action, be it as PC or GM. There are superhero archetypes that could be used as pregenerated PC's to get you and your players quickly into the 2 introductory adventures, or in scenarios of your own devising against the villain archetypes also included. On top of all that M&M also contains some servicable advice for GM's on how to set up and run superhero games.

All in all then, the M&M core rulebook is a strong package which benefits from being written in a solid, no nonsense manner, and from being really well presented.

If I am that impressed by the M&M core rules, what is it about Freedom City that impresses me more? To sum it up in a phrase, I'd have to say that this book is the proverbial quart in the pint pot. Produced and written to the same high standards as the core rules, this book contains absolutely everything a would-be GM needs to get a superhero campaign up and running just as quickly as they could wish.

Freedom City itself is well detailed. You get a brief history of the city and an overview of its different districts. There's a look at a wide variety of institutions and locations, from businesses and the media, through parks and restaurants, to the media and science and technology, and more. This is all topped-off with a look at city government, law and order, and, of course, the criminal underworld.

This material is very strong. It's tightly written and well-focussed, giving you all the different sorts of locations and NPC's that could appear in a typical superhero story. There are several excellent maps, a good crop of fully worked out NPC's alongside plenty of key personalities, and a nice range of appropriate agencies and criminal gangs. The detail is sufficient to give you a good handle on all of these elements of the city for your game, but not so heavy that you'll have problems getting to grips with the content. And there's plenty of room for you to fill out the details as you like.

The rest of the setting material fills out the background of the rest of the world of Freedom City. This includes hidden lands, outer space, and other dimensions. These can obviously only be presented as the briefest of capsule sketches, but sufficient information is still presented to give you a good idea of how everything fits together.

All of this background material fits together to give a strong feel for a classic 4-colour superhero setting after the fashion of classic DC or Marvel. If you want a media-mogul who's decided to turn your heroes into public enemies, you've got it. If you want advanced laboratories in which your heroes can find people to investigate the weird alien technology they've just found, they're there. And of course, there is a mutant academy too.

If the setting material is strong, then the book's crunchiness is perhaps even stronger. There are dozens and dozens of fully detailed heroes and villains presented. There are enough villains in the book that you could run a Freedom City game for months without ever having to turn to designing your own. And the heroes could serve as inspiration for your own, as allies, or even as unwitting agents of villains with mind control powers. Truly an embarrassment of riches.

The book rounds off with notes on suggested frameworks for games; on how the various different supers origins might occur in the Freedom City setting; and on Freedom City 'secrets'- elements of the setting left open for the GM to decide in their own game.

And there you have it: richly detailed and full of just the sort of material needed for pretty much any and every comicbook scene you might wish to stage in your games; and chock full of useful crunch that you can make great use of. And that, I guess, could be getting close to why I think Freedom City might be even better than the core M&M rules. The core rules met my hopes in spades, and really whetted my appetite for the game. Freedom City positively exceeded my expectations, and has left me keen to get a game going just as soon as it's practicable.

Great stuff! Full marks to the crew at Green Ronin. ;)

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