I am woefully behind on reviews. So I want to do one I picked up at Gen Con and it has been sitting on my desk, taunting me to review it.
First off some disclaimers.
- I do know the author Jason Vey and we have worked on projects together before. This is not one of those projects.
- I did read a playtest version of this game some time ago. This review is on the published version of the book.
- I did not get a free copy of this. I pledged in Troll Lords pre-order program and picked it up at Gen Con.
Ok. All of that is out of the way.
Amazing Adventures (hereafter AA) is a new Pulp Action RPG based on the same SIEGE Engine that runs Castles & Crusades. Unlike other SIEGE games, this one is 100% compatible with C&C. So much so that I plan on using them together, but I'll get to that. Right now let's talk about what the book has.
Upfront we get our OGL declaration including a lot of Open content. This will make it easy to make "Pulp d20" supplements or use this for other sorts of games.
We move right into an introduction to what Pulp Roleplaying is. I know Jason, I know he knows Pulp quite well. Reading this then is like reading Steven Kenson on Supers Roleplaying; I know he gets it at a level above me. In this case yes, but Jason still brings it down to the peasants like myself to understand. For me I am constantly defining Pulp by old movies or, more to the point, what it isn't. It isn't Victorian, it isn't 50's Atomic Sci-Fi (yet) or Ultra Modern.
There is a brief introduction on the use of magic. Something I'll get to again in a bit.
Book One deals with Characters. Note, there are not multiple books, but divided withing the physical book.
If you have played, oh, ANYTHING in the last 40 years then you know what this is. The same 6 attributes of all d20 games and C&C. They are described with a little more information given to languages.
There are Classes. This is based on Castles & Crusades afterall. The Arcanist (who reminds of the Harry Dresden covers), are our magic users. What I like about them is that they choose how their magic works. So a "wizard" may memorize spells and choose Intelligence as their Spell-casting Attribute. Or Wisdom if it is deep understanding or Charisma if it is force of character. I like this. A lot. The Arcanist is a bit tougher than your d20 wizard with d6 HD. More emphasis is given to cantrips/0-level spells and less on really high level ones. Makes sense really.
The Gadgeteer is used to make all sorts of high tech gadgets. Your Howard Hughes-like characters. You hard-boiled detectives are well represented by the Gumshoe. The Hooligan is your all purpose neer-do-well, from street urchins to thieves and generally all purpose bad guys. But that doesn't mean your character is bad, no he/she could have a heart of gold and be down on their luck. ;) The Mentalist is a great addition given the fascination that the time had with Mentalism/Spiritualism. If the Arcanist is a "magical" character then the Mentalist is the "pyschic" one. I also want to point out here that the Mentalist is a PERFECT class to port over to C&C if you want to do psychic/psionic powers there. The Pugilist is your bare knucks fighter. We have these chaps in the Victorian era games too, but these have some nice features. There is the Raider for your big game hunters or Indiana Jones types. Finally the Socialite.
There are some good rules on multiclassing as well, which is great for this Socialite/Hooligan I want to make.
The same Alignment system is in play as C&C. Personally I would have liked something different. The nice thing is that it is completely optional. I think for anything other than a D&D/C&C game I would drop it.
Next up are Fate Points. These work like Drama or Hero Points. The characters gain them at a level increase, but chances are they will spend them faster. I have ported this over to C&C and other d20 games and they work great. There is a lot you can do with these above and beyond normal "points" and they really add to the Pulpy feel of the game in my mind. The main character doesn't die in Chapter 1 or Reel 1, and he doesn't die at Level 1 either. Fate points are the "To Be Continued!" of the game.
The book on Characters ends with some equipment from the Pulp age including when they were introduced (good) and pricing for the times.
Book 2 is Advanced Character Customization
AA is not just about leveling up characters, there are other ways to advnace and customize your Pulp Hero.
Characters can have Abilities (like Ace), Backgrounds (like Scientist), Skills, and Traits. Traits are bit like Feats and a bit like Qualities and Drawbacks in other games.
Since there is Arcana and this Pulp there is a chance the characters will run into something that will break their little minds. So we have a section on Sanity. These rules are simple and solid really. There is not too much detail to read like the latest DSM but enough for a game.
There is also a section on Wealth which is dealt with not as money, but rating based on class.
Book 3 deals with the Paranormal
In particular this chapter details the differences between psionics and magic. Again, this would be great to port over to C&C. The basic mechanics behind using psionics and magic are also detailed. Frankly I am really, really glad that Psionics are different from Magic. They should be and they should feel different. One of my disapointments with D&D3x (and 4e) was Psionics were treated just like another form of magic and they shouldn't be.
Spellcasting is based on Mana points which is a good change really, and fits with the Pulp period more in my mind. Spells are largely treated the same way as other d20 products so adding new spells is actually pretty easy.
What is interesting about both the magic spells and psionic powers is they both have associated Ability scores. So a spell might require Intelligence or Charisma.
Book 4: Rules of the Game is next.
It is what you would expect it to be. Maybe a little more information on non-lethal and unarmed and two-fisted fighting. There are some more gadgets here, in particular modes of transportation.
Book 5 covers the Bestiary
In pulp literature there were still unknown lands to discover and many of those lands had never been seen by man before so who knows what sorts of beasts would dwell there? Well not really dinosaurs or giant apes, but in your game you can. We get a nice mix of classical monsters, atomic-horror giants, undead creatures and aliens. It's crazy. But crazy in a good way. Since the monsters are standard format you can even pull out any monster book for C&C (or d20) and use those monsters too.
Book 6 Running a Pulp Game is next.
Details the pulp 4-act adventure (for contrast I typically run 3-act adventures for Buffy and 5-act ones for Ghosts of Albion). For your benefit a sample adventure is included.
We end the book with a Character Sheet.
There are plenty of support files from the author:
This is the errata for the first printing (dark cover): http://www.grey-elf.com/candc/aaerrata.pdf
A Character sheet: http://www.grey-elf.com/candc/aacharactersheet.pdf
And expanded Firearms. These are in addition to what is found in the books: http://www.grey-elf.com/candc/aafirearms.pdf
Ok. Judgement time.
Science Fiction Double Feature
I like this book a lot. I am not sure I would ever play in a pulp setting, but I think it is a great update/replacement for Modern d20. Truthfully while reading this what I REALLY want to do with this is something along the lines of 50's and 60's monster movies. So aliens attacking the earth, giant insects and kaiju. "This Island Earth", "Forbidden Planet", "Them", "Day of the Triffids" and the like. I know this is not what the book was designed to do. But it sure works great for it to be honest. Actually better than great.
I have a lot of Pulpish, 2-fisted adventure, games. This one is great for Pulp, but to ignore the flexibility in this game would be a crime. Plus the 50s are an under-represented time in RPG games.
Stand and Deliver!
Another thing that this game is PERFECT for is as a supplement to Castles & Crusades. Not only do you get an updated Arcane class, you get a perfectly workable Psionic class with powers. Even if you don't use that try using the Fate Point system with C&C.
One of the nice features of this game is the use of just using a +5 for Primes. Instead of a TN or 12 or 18 like C&C, AA gives you a plus to your roll. We housed ruled this for C&C a while back and I understand it is fairly common. I like it better than the core C&C rules and will use this instead.
There is something else that this game would be perfect for. I have had this desire to do a game based in 16th to 17th Century England where I could cover such topics as Queen Elizabeth, The Stuart Kings and Queens, Shakespeare, Sir Francis Drake, Guy Fawkes, John Dee, Highway Men, sail and conquest. This plus C&C minus many of the D&D trappings would be perfect.
I am thinking of modding the vehicle combat rules for Highwaymen on horse back and coaches-in-four. Stand and deliver indeed!
What is missing from the book that I think would have been nice are some Archetypes/1st level NPCs.
Also a supporting cast might also be good. What level and class is Police Officer O'Hara at Precinct 9 where you get all your good tips?
A couple of adventures from the publisher would also be nice. You could put a few of them into one book.
Also missing, but something that I can easily find, is a map of the World circa 1930 with so travel times and costs. I would have liked some more information on the world too. I guess that is the one thing that this book lacks. Granted, these things are typically covered in a Game Masters' book or a Campaign book. I ignored it up to this point because I was so drawn in by all the things I want to do with this that I never considered missing. I am hesitant to count off for it since a.) I only noticed it now despite having had and played around with this game for a while and b.) I was not then and am not now likely to even use it.
So where do end this?
Well I really like this book. Even if I never play it as intended there is just too much good stuff in it to ignore.
Buy this if
...you like Jason's other books. This is his style through and through.
...you like two-fisted pulp action adventure.
...you like Castles & Crusades and are looking to turn it up a notch or add Psionics or a Fate Point system.
...you want a flexible modern system built on a system that is tried and tested for years.
...you want easy to use vehicle combat rules.
My imagination is really grabbed by this system. I think there is a lot of potential here and a lot I want to do with this game.