The Introduction contains the usual 'what is role playing?' section, but takes an unusual approach - one I've often used as it happens, comparing role-playing to improvisational drama. Of course role-playing has one significant difference from improv: rules! Even here the approach is civilised, so good it's worth repeating:-
"The rules are only here to litigate scenes in the Episode. Rules do not dictate plot and they never take over the actors."
The roles of Director (GM) and Actors (the players and their characters) are explained, along with the way that the Act Ten Role Playing Network has been constructed as an integral resource for participants in the game. Neat! The terminology for talking about the game draws on the early improv analogy, trending to movie-speak rather than to the stage, and it is used well and consistently throughout.
Straight on to Traits, which begins the character creation process. Traits are used to define the character in terms of the way they act, and to build backstory. Some are positive and cost points, others are negative and give you some instead. Most have in-game mechanical advantages as well as guidelines on how that trait might affect the way the character behaves. In line with the underlying philosophy of this game, there's a reminder that these rules, like all the rest, are guidelines to be used or amended as appropriate: the core thing is to create precisely the character YOU want to play! On the downside, there's a tendency to use terminology and refer to game mechanics that haven't been introduced yet which makes things a bit confusing on the first read-through.
Next comes Stats, again important in defining your character as well as in determining how well he accomplishes tasks. They are divided into physical and mental stats, with a few 'sub-stats' - that is, ones which are derived from other stats. These can be chosen using a point-buy system, or if you prefer you can get the dice out.
We then move on to Skills. Again these go towards defining the character: what they are naturally good at, what they have picked up and what they have learned through formal study or training. There are some core skills that everyone can do to a greater or lesser extent, as well as others that you need to have found out at least something about (i.e. put points into!) before you have a chance of using them. Almost all of the skills are quite generic and so can be shaded depending on the setting you wish to use, although a contemporary/near-future setting is assumed.
Character creation covered, next comes Task Resolution, a detailed look at the mechanics underlying what your character can attempt to do during play. Fundamentally, there are two types of task resolution termed active and inactive. Active task resolution happens when there is an opposed roll - someone is actively hindering you, fighting you or otherwise contesting your attempt to do something. In inactive task resolution your roll is made against an assigned target number, and it is used when you are just doing something that may or may not succeed: baking a cake or climbing a wall. In both cases, the player does the same thing: add the appropriate stat and skill, roll 1d10 and apply any modifiers. In active task resolution, whoever is contesting what the player is doing makes his own roll. Occasionally a percentage roll will be called for instead, this is usually a straight roll without modifiers and is used for a simple succeed/fail - with the more complex task resolutions, an overflow/underflow mechanism is used to determine how well you succeeded (a really tasty cake!) or how badly you failed (you didn't only burn the cake, you set the kitchen alight!). Like many task resolution systems it sounds complex but becomes quite straitforward once you get the dice out and try it - and this one is more intuitive than most.
The rest of this chapter looks at details such as the flow of time in the game, how to determine target numbers and modifiers, and the use of mana and anima - derived stats that can be used to augment your regular capabilities in times of need. This is followed by a chapter on the all-important subject of Combat. This is well-laid out and explains things in detail and clearly with comments to aid Directors in running combat as well as information for players as to what they need to do. Again, complexities in reading become clearer once you try a few sample combats. Whilst basic combat is straightforward, loads of options can be added in to make it more detailed and to permit characters to do, well, just about anything that they want to do. Then the final 'rules' chapter deals with Experience, both the awarding thereof and what you can do with it. Rather neatly, acquiring new skills is done in one of two ways: by figuring it out for yourself or learning it from a teacher. If a character wishes to teach another, there is a teaching skill and associated mechanics to determine how good a job he does, which affects the roll the character learning must make to see if he actually has learned anything - it's not just a case of spending experience points and writing a new skill on the character sheet!
Next comes Creating a Character. You may think that this has already been covered in the preceding 'rules' chapters, but this is a detailed walk-through of the process, very useful when beginning to play the game or when introducing new players to an established group. It also demonstrates something called a 'tuning build' - a system for customising and improving the character throughout the course of the game. This is a fine example of teaching, complete with annotated advice on what to write on the character sheet.
The next chapter is Directing A Series, and is jam-packed with helpful advice for intending Directors (and, for that matter, experienced Game Masters!). This is where the 'improv performance' theme comes into its own, advising Directors to view their game as a TV show and to lift concepts of timing, pace, and flow of events from that medium. An example session of play is used to highlight the points made earlier in the chapter. This section winds up with a collection of useful tables and tips.
Finally there is a sneak-peek into the world of Division, the forthcoming first setting for Act Ten. It is a near-future where technology is all-pervasive and corporations have seemingly replaced democratic government across the world. Psychic powers are on the rise along with augmented reality and other such meldings of humanity and technology. Many are content, but there are always the rebels... The pervading look and feel of this new world is presented in comic-book style, very effectively. There's a time-line from 2008 to the future of 2025, details of life in this brave new world... and also of those who stand against the omipresent corporations and demand the right to be free as well as of the corporations themselves and the major players within them. This rounds out with a look at the world itself and the people you'll find there, including relevant game mechanics to enable you to play them. Then there are details of the devices and equipment available, legally and otherwise. Although this is merely a preview, there's plenty to enable the inventive Director to make a start...
For that is what this is, a start. Good, comprehensive core rules, but generic. You could run pretty any sort of game you like, but are left to get on with devising it for yourself. An excellent beginning and a thoroughly well-considered ruleset - and that's a wrap, for now.
[5 of 5 Stars!]