Billed as an “action horror game with a twist of humor,” Apocalypse Prevention Inc. (or API) has been described by others as what you’d get if Joss Whedon and Mike Mignola wrote Men in Black. When you open the cover, the game definitely stands up to that description - API is a global shadow organization that has protected the world from demonic forces since the time of the Black Plague. How do they do it? Through magic, cybernetics, intense training and hiring on some of the demons (meaning any non-human) that have made Earth their home... with API’s permission, of course.
Upon opening the book you'll see a clean black and white interior which uses a two-column layout. I found this format very easy to read, even with the greyscale blood spatter in the center of each page. Greyscale art is found throughout the book and ranges from very good to mediocre. In this chapter things start off with a quick "What is Roleplaying" section (and I'm glad it was kept short) before seeing an introduction memo which welcomes a new agent to API. The book could definitely use more of this interdepartmental flavor to help build on the organizational feeling of API, but it's not a big deal.
Chapter 1 - Character Creation
A quick five-step process guides you through character creation. I had thought about building a sample character but Tommy Brownell has already done that for me. I highly suggest taking a look at his post to see a Spectral take shape.
Step one involves picking a Concept, a Passion and a Race. The Passion is something I really liked about API but also something I didn't focus enough on when I was running the game. This is what drives the PC and playing to it can earn the PC extra experience, so I may have cost my players some points here. To new GMs, I'd suggest keeping track of the PC's Passion on a notecard during play.
The Races you can choose from are a Human, Burner, Changeling, Lochs, Spectral, Taylari and Wolf People. Burners are fire demons who have fled to earth to seek refuge from a machine race that has taken over their home while Changelings are fae demons who can assume change their form. Spectrals are ghosts, Wolf People are werewolves and Taylari are "living" vampires. The Lochs are a race of large humanoid fish, which I think is pretty cool for some underwater adventures. There are also three illegal races, which means they pose a threat to earth, but I’m not going to deal too much with those at the moment.
Step two has you spending your Attribute Points in a point-buy character creation system. I found this system to be very flexible, with each of the PCs that were generated being very different from one another. You get 30 points to spend here and distribute them among Power, Agility, Vigor, Insight, Intellect and Charm with 4-5 being considered the average out of 10 possible points in each. Each stat ended up being very important during the game so keep in mind that there are no "dump stats" in API.
Skills come next, allowing you to spend another 30 points between 20 skills and 12 different possible styles. The styles were part of what made me hesitant about this game, what with all the modifiers and no difference between a bonus to strike with melee vs. ranged, but I found in play that these styles can go a long way to really defining a character in combat. In my eyes that should be the primary point behind offering different martial arts for players to choose from and API does an excellent job without getting caught up in the tiny details like other games I’ve played have.
This step is where the system comes to the forefront as well. The Dynamic Game System (or DGS) which powers API uses a 1d20+Attribute+Skill system in an attempt to beat a target number. These target numbers are 10 for a trivial task all the way up to 40 for a near impossible task. Skills and Attributes are both hard capped at 10, so that 40 truly is nearly impossible to succeed at.
Next up is destributing bonus points among Gifts (special things that help to define your character, like magical abilities), your skills or attributes. You can also take Drawbacks to give yourself more bonus points and there’s quite the list to choose from. Again, click on the link to Tommy’s blog up above and you’ll get a good idea of how a character is created.
Step five is calculating your derived stats like Health, Initiative, Movement and so on. Past this you only need to buy your equipment and you’re good to go.
Chapter 2: Combat
This chapter is the one that almost prevented me from giving API a try. On first glance I just wasn’t sure about the initiative tracker or the tick system for actions, but during play it works very, very well.
Each round has 20 “counts” which represent about half a second of real time. The winner of the initiative roll, found by rolling 1d20 and adding your Initiative score, goes on count 1 with the other participant's counts determined by how much lower they rolled than the winner – every four points equals one more count. If you have someone roll a 28 for initiative and another person rolls 20, the first person would go on count 1 and the second would go on count 3. It doesn’t take long to get used to at all.
Characters will have a number of actions based on their fighting style and other modifiers and there are several different maneuvers that can be performed. Everything from a light, accurate strike to a heavy haymaker, to a grapple or disarm and the list goes on. The defender will also roll to dodge, parry or block depending on the attack. Each action or reaction will cost stamina, which is another part of the combat system that I was hesitant about.
To strike a combatant would roll 1d20 + Strike modifiers + maneuver modifiers. A defender would roll 1d20 + Block/Parry/Dodge modifiers. Both would keep track of their Stamina cost for their different maneuvers and each needs to keep track of the number of actions they have remaining in the round. I found that this was sometimes difficult as people tended to fall into the I Go, You Go mindset on occasion so providing counters, like glass beads, to represent their actions remaining worked well. The amount of bookkeeping at this stage sounds like a lot but it ended up fading to the background easily during play.
All in all the combat system plays far better than it reads and I encourage everyone who has any doubt to give it a run.
Chapter 3: The World of Magic
API definitely has its own flavor when it comes to magic. There are 13 different paths, each with a different theme and each with three “circles” or levels. For example, Path of Elements allows for control of the different elemental forces including the ability to take on the form of that element. Path of Augmentation allows the caster to enhance their body, granting benefits like regeneration or super-speed. Each spell from each path requires a sacrifice to be able to cast the spell, which is very similar to spell components in other systems, and you can also buy upgrades for the different spells as well. One of my players was an Elemental adept who upgraded his Blast spell several times, becoming quite formidable in the process.
Chapter 4: API Organization
This chapter is all about the setting. What I said earlier about Joss Whedon and Mike Mignola writing Men in Black is explained here. If you can picture J and K taking down a demonic hellgate in their mission to protect the earth then you’re well on your way to understanding what API is all about. If you don’t know what any of that means, then this chapter will spell it out for you.
Long ago, during the time of the Black Plague, the Circle of Ten founded what came to be known as Apocalypse Prevention Inc. in the hope of keeping mankind safe from demonic influence. They have 10 major headquarters around the world, each controlled by a descendant of the Circle of Ten, so if you want to run a game in Russia, the UK, Brazil or China then feel free. The sourcebooks have only been released for Alaska and Europe at the moment, however, so detail is lacking.
There is also some information on the API hierarchy, how the agency works and what it means to be an agent in its ranks. There is a lot of flavor crammed into the chapter and it is surprisingly well written. I don’t mean that to say that the rest of the writing is bad, just that setting descriptions in some games has come across as a little too vague or a little too specific. API walks the line between the two, letting you know what you need to and leaving a lot open for you to do what you want.
Chapter 5: Demonology
This is where you’ll find information on the different races available in API, explaining how they feel about the world and how API feels about them. The story of the Burners, as an example, explains how they came to end up in Florida and what they are running from…
Chapter 6: Telling Stories for API
Here’s the GM section, which gives advice on running games set in the API universe. It gives some good pointers on using the different themes of the game, from comedy to horror, and provides stats for many different creatures, animals and opponents. The three illegal races I mentioned before are detailed here and their sections explain why they are not allowed on Earth.
Finally you get your sheets, a glossary and an index, along with a random demon making chart.
Even though it was released in 2008 I had never heard of Apocalypse Prevention Inc., Third Eye Games or Eloy Lasanta before the Haiti bundle at RPGNow. Now that I have I can’t help but think that I’ve been missing out on something this whole time. My score for Apocalypse Prevention Inc. is a solid 9/10, which for the folks over on RPGnet means a 4/5 Style and a 5/5 Substance. This book provides all you need to get going with the game, introduces a fantastic combat system in the DGS and provides a setting that I thoroughly enjoy with enough information offered to bring the setting to life. While a few pieces of art do not really click with me I don’t think that they detract from the book, instead just failing to add to it. API's writing is clear and concise, not bombarding you with minute details to drive the setting home or forcing the different aspects of the game down your throat. The combat system is intimidating at first glance but after I actually gave it a run at the table I saw just how smoothly it plays. This is a game that definitely deserves to be played and I hope anyone who has doubts about the DGS will give it a try. I bet you’ll be surprised.
This was linked from my blog and the formatting didn't hold. To see the formatted review you can go to - http://www.thevigilant.net/?p=300
[5 of 5 Stars!]