ThreeForged Review - Entry 02

This second rundown of a bunch of games from the ThreeForged RPG Design Challenge. Upon realization that I may simply not be able to read all of the entries in time for voting, I've started skipping around again.

As before, on this 1-5 scale  a 5 is, "yeah I'd play that", and a 1 is, "why did I read this?". With this entry I've hit 20 out of 102 (there's actually 104, but 2 of the links don't work).

1537 - Twilight Hotel (3 out of 5): This is essentially Fiasco of a specific shade. The mechanics are slightly different, but it is the same in the ways that matter. That could be good or bad, depending on your playstyle. I didn't find anything special or exciting about it though, nothing to distinguish it, and that is a let down. Like a few of the other games from this contest, I can see it working as a one shot for those days when your group wants a break from the usual weekly game.

1556 - The Mask and The Daydream (2 out of 5): "This solo RPG provides structure to facilitate daydream fantasies." I was not expecting that. 

Despite the game's disclaimer. I'm not sure I would consider this an RPG so much as a creative writing exercise. Maybe a tool for outlining a setting or scenario. In some ways its like something someone developed for a therapy session, but it could just be the references to scientific articles that lends it that air.

I'm not sure there's much more to say about this. Nothing about it grabbed me. Nothing about it made me want to try it out, but nothing repulsed me either. 

1571 - The Rending of the Veil (2 out of 5): Hey, cover graphic. Photos of people in the snow. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by the growing number of science fantasy settings. Numenera is just the biggest name on the growing list. This is the latest. Its A Song of Ice and Fire's whitewalkers north of the wall and winter is coming, except its Ark ship, orbital AI god, retrogressive society, nanites out of control, and terraforming gone awry. Whatever. Actually sounds a lot like the backstory our Numenera GM came up with for his game (in which the Accountant Adventurer became God). Point is winter is coming and there's undead coming with. 

P.S. AIs really should run psyche-evals over its newly vat grown agents before shooting them down to the planet. Alternatively, if you can terraform planets and grow people in jars fully educated, I expect you to also have an indoctrination system to ensure your vat babies conform to your desired belief system. I mean, seriously?

P.P.S. Orbital AI god, why do you just not drop a meteor on the bad guy? I mean, seriously?

OK. I'm done with plot holes. 

The mechanics seem alright. I like that you can damage the veil (the nanites you control for magic) accidentally via your magic and that there are steps to repairing it. The resolution mechanic is also pretty simple, perhaps too light as there are things that seem unclear, like damage, which is mentioned but not really addressed. The way it seems this would play, the game is less an RPG and more a turn based strategy. That's cool. 

It also seems like the authors ran out of room. They needed another page or few. For instance, an Endgame Phase is mentioned on page 4, but then it is never explained or otherwise addressed. Maybe with another page or three they would have delivered a more complete game. Its the incompleteness that brings this game's score down. Otherwise I could see giving it a 3 or 4.

1588 - Under the Broken Moons (3 out of 5): The narrative intro is pretty good. It gets your attention early. I may be biased though since I like alien set ups. The twist given after the narration is pretty fun too. Its perhaps closest to Thundarr the Barbarian. As a setting, I dig it. 

I am amused that the two species are referred to as human, when their descriptions clearly illustrate they have evolved to something else.

Where this game presents a meaty setting, it kind of ends there. The mechanics are light; the level where everything is left to the players and GM to decide rather than giving structure that you can use to give both limits and options. Where this appeals to some, it won't to others.

1593 - Aquila (4 out of 5): Early on it looks like Civ on paper or Settlers of Catan the RPG. The mapping mechanic is simple and pretty cool. Draw circles; here's some rules on how they can be drawn.  

Character, faction, etc. creation all follows a similar format. Give a name and some descriptors. Its an approach I see in a number of the three forged games. I'm a fan of it for describing things when you just need a quick overview, like locations and power centers. I'm less happy to use it with PCs. However, that is less of an issue here since this runs more like a turn based strategy game than and RPG in some ways. 

Given the order of game play, I wonder how far games go and how fast it plays. Your character gets 30 life points, and this automatically drops each round, to represent 1 year of age. When he dies, another family member can take over. That's pretty cool, but it seems like things could drag on for a long time as a result, and the lack of depth / options in the mechanics makes me feel like players would be more likely to scrap a game "early" and then restart with completely new setup than keep going on.

I very much like the concept that the author(s) is going for here, but it needs some fleshing out.  

15106 - Salt Crown (5 of 5): The set up is nifty enough. War experiments for superpowers reminds me of Godlike, which isn't a bad thing. Using the Spanish Civil War is a new thing, and that's kinda cool.

Character background relies on answering 4 questions. Its cute and ensures the players think about the setting; though the last one is a bit eye rolling.

The Youth and Innocence mechanic does much to color the setting.Off the top of my head, I can't recall a mechanic, at least in the way it was explained, drive home the effect of war as well as this does. These also represent your "hit points" or "stress", but they capture it extraordinarily well within the context of the setting. That you can only regain Youth and Innocence through your acceptance of the sacrifice of others (presumably on your behalf), also strikes me as an incredibly powerful mechanic.

The basic resolution is cute but it needs to be better communicated. You selected or rolled a character number (CN) at the start from 2 through 5. Youth = CN and Innocence = 6-CN. works for me. Physical Action? Roll below CN on 2d6. Mental Action? Roll above CN on 2d6. What wasn't done well was explaining that its not 2d6 you roll because that means roll them and add them together in pretty much every other game. No, here you are rolling a dice pool of 2. Each die is compared to your CN separately, and then the number of successes determine if you succeed, partially succeed, or fail, which is cool.

Where the game could better describe some aspects, such as its resolution mechanic and what might qualify as a healing sacrifice, it is, on the whole good. This is really only because it does an amazing job of capturing the struggles of this specific type of character within this specific type of setting. I like more crunch to my systems, but yeah, I'd play this.

15120 - Tales from the Vasty Deep (3 out of 5): I was expecting oceanic and got deep space. Cool. Its a pretty straight forward engine for engaging in peripheral space law enforcement. I appreciate the inclusion of motivations, like always. The game's engine is simple enough, a cross between FATE and AW with negotiation instead of dice; however, I find it is easier for players to work with a system when the numeric thresholds for "yes, but", etc. are constant, rather than sliding. There's not much to say about this game beyond that. 

15123 - Perfected City (3 out of 5): We're playing families, or at least scions of families. For better or worse, 10 pages in and I feel this is more of a setting document than a game. The short version is think Romeo and Juliet with some alchemy and eugenics thrown in. So where its rich on setting, I am not given much of an indication as to what clicks where in game terms. 

Family relationships left me scratching my head. You are allies with the family on your right, but you are enemies with the family on your left. Right, so let's imagine we're sitting around the table. The guy to my right is my ally, but the person to his left (me) is his enemy. On one had I might say, "that's some nifty Machiavellian set up right there". On the other hand, or rather, in reality I might say, "have you looked at a seating chart?" Switch it to "persons sitting across from you" or "another person" and you're probably OK.

That little hiccup aside, as I've said before, I appreciate this sort of 'round the table cooperative character building. Its positively extended here by also creating family members within your ally's and enemy's houses.

For the story/resolution mechanics themselves, its far too on the social engineering side of the spectrum for my taste. These sort of games lack an inherent "fairness" to them because its not about character skill, its about player skill. Usually, the player who is loudest or best able to get others to laugh "wins", regardless of how creative or interesting other people's ideas may be and regardless of how well meaning everyone at the table is. That's just human nature and the reality of the situation. Social engineering has its place in games, but it should be balanced by other mechanics.

15148 - Fetch This! (4 out of 5): Fun premise. You play pets or other animal residents trying to subvert humanity. You do this by first listing what you know about humans and then using those facts as our plan of attacks. Watch zfrank's Sad Cat Diaries and Sad Dog Diaries for some excellent examples of human "facts".

The mechanics are simple enough for and fit the premise. Though when you add/keep/remove cover dice will take some getting used to. 

On the whole, it may be good for a quick chuckle as you run a game reminiscent of Over the Hedge or similar movies. Its not meant to be taken seriously, and shouldn't be played that way.