Most recently we played a session of White Wolf’s game of pulp era heroes, the first in their trilogy of “Trinity” games.
The girlfriend offered to run this for us. I’ve been curious about this for a while, since I have a persistent fondness for the old pulp era stories. She gave us a bit of information about the basic setting, and set us loose to make characters. Short version of the setting: In the early 1920s, a scientist had an accident which made people across the world have powers.
We only had two books for three players. Which is better than we usually have, but still not spectacular. Since the girlfriend and I each owned a copy of the book, we were hard pressed to justify buying a $12 PDF from DriveThruRPG.com for a one-shot. And, in case you’re wondering, the very generic name of Adventure! makes it pretty much impossible to find bootlegs out there for it. Not that I, er, looked or anything. *whistles innocently*
One of the prevalent themes of our afternoon was seeing transition points between the older World of Darkness mechanics and stuff they used in later games. Similar to the new World of Darkness you built your base human character first, before applying the effects of the change wrought by gaining powers. Unlike nWoD, you made your complete human character including spending all your freebie points. Then you had a pool of points to spend on supercharging your character.
This sounded neat, but you were able to get more than just powers. You could boost up your skills and Backgrounds as well. And the exchange rate on that was much better than buying them with freebie points. It seemed ripe for exploiting for those into number fiddling.
Continuing with the theme of being a missing link in White Wolf evolution, the system included things like fixed target numbers for your pool of d10s and stunt mechanics. The basic system seemed to work pretty well. One flaw of the stunt mechanics did come forth from this experience: everyone’s a critic. I worked hard coming up with elaborate descriptions for my stunts that still fell into the pulp genre, and I had trouble getting more than one stunt die out of the deal. Bah. And that’s the biggest challenge of the stunt die system. When you’re working to entertain your GM with your descriptions, part of the game becomes knowing how to play on your GM’s tastes. (Which, I guess is true of RPGs in a lot of ways.)
The powers were a little wonky at points. Many of them relied on one of three traits called “Facets,” that defined whether your character was intuitive, reflective or destructive. And they seemed to work at cross purposes to one another. The super-strength powers came under “destructive.” But the super-toughness powers came under “reflective.” You could not beef up on both strong and tough, it seemed. So when I made my brick house of a character, I could make him capable of picking up cars and punching through brick walls, but he was comparatively fragile.
The other frustrating thing was that the ways it boosted your feats of strength were sometimes overly specific. I had a power that let me punch more destructively, and I had a power that let me lift really heavy things. But neither of those seemed to really help when there was a run-away trolley car that needed to be stopped. And there wasn’t just a “you are generally super strong.” In order to fit the description of the rules, I had to run up and pick up the trolley rather than putting myself in front of it and trying to slow its acceleration. It seemed… ridiculous in that regard.
I’m reminded a little bit of the weird situations you get with Exalted. They seem to want to totally define what you can do as a mortal in very fine grain detail. (I was downright apoplectic one time when reading a blog post from one of the White Wolf writers who thought that having rules for pregnancy really made the game that much more awesome.) Because they work so hard to be detailed in their approach, I think they fail to really capture the feel of the genre. It’s not as bad as, say, Hero System. But it was still galling.
Combat seemed to run okay. The rules had us declare our actions in reverse order of initiative, which is hardly a new mechanic but I think this is one of the few times we actually used that rule.
I think other games have spoiled me for really awesome rules for mooks. These mooks rules were okay, but I was hitting bad guys so hard the GM was house-ruling that I could take out more than one with a particularly big hit.
Compared to the Leading Brand
The two obvious games that beg for comparison to this are Savage Worlds and Spirit of the Century.
Savage Worlds is, as it promises, fast, furious and fun. It at least would do well in emulating mundane pulp adventures. I know they have a pulp setting out for SW, but I don’t know how well they adapt the game to those. As it stands, I don’t see anything that immediately makes me think, “I could totally play the Shadow in Savage Worlds.” Adventure! definitely has that going for it. Otherwise, I think one well-made sourcebook will basically kill any competition between the two.
Spirit of the Century, I’m fairly torn about. I think the game is brilliant on a lot of levels. Even the person who made Adventure! declares it to be a better pulp game than the one he wrote. But, well, I hate FUDGE. I’ve had other quibbles, like the length of time for character creation. But really, I have the hate for FUDGE. From the limited experience I’ve had with it, I’ve found combat to be fairly frustrating as well. I think Adventure! has proved more approachable in that regard.
Also, I like it when a game that seeks to emulate a genre really provides hooks that make you think of the genre. 7th Sea did that very well with swashbucklers. Adventure! does that with pulp mystery men. I don’t get that with Spirit of the Century. Long story short, I couldn’t figure out in a glance how to make a character with the the power to cloud men’s minds. (A la The Shadow radio dramas.)
The game is fun and usable, but I find the system prone to abuse and there isn’t anything about the setting itself that particularly mandates those rules. The first half of the book is flavor text written by Warren Ellis, which sounds very shway even if I didn’t bother to look at it. But otherwise it’s a pretty generic pulp setting with okay mechanics. You could really do a lot better for rules in that regard.
Also, as a slight aside, I’ve decided that any time the topic of Victorian horror or steampunk comes up, I will point people to Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula or the Will Smith version of Wild, Wild West.
We don’t have another OHW lined up. Our Sundays are basically filled with other obligations until at least August. I’ll wait until then to evaluate whether or not I want to renew the game. I’ve been feeling burnt out about my schedule and attendance has been getting iffier and iffier. I suggested to the group that someone else could organize these if they want, and no one bit. So this is going on the back burner for now. Instead, you will get to read my random thoughts on other games.