Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Naughty Boys Before D-Day

You get trends in gaming. For example, after the release of Pirates of the Caribbean back in 2003, there was a rash of piratically themed RPGs, and before that in 2001, there was a number of World War II themed RPGs, inspired of course, by the sixtieth anniversary of the USA’s entry into the conflict. Trends come and go, so it is no surprise that few of those games for either print remain in print, although many of them are available as PDFs. In fact, until the publication of Weird Wars: Weird War 2 – the Savage Worlds and thus better redevelopment of the Weird War II: Blood on the Rhine RPG for the d20 System – the only survivor from that spate of World War II themed RPGs was Godlike: Superhero Roleplaying in a World on Fire, 1936-1946 from Arc Dream Publishing. As its title suggests, this was an alternate take upon the war, one in which super powered individuals participated on all sides. The designer’s approach saw the player characters not as traditional superheroes, all spandex and gung ho, but as ordinary soldiers and civilians who through some stressful situation, were granted a power of some kind. Such powers might be the traditional ones of speed, flight, invulnerability, and so on, but they really could be anything. Sample powers or “Talents” as they are known might include being able to tunnel through rubble unimpeded, to fire your fingernails to deadly effect, to turn into a circus gorilla, to fall asleep and be able to send your skeleton to fight for you, and to able to open any lock. All it takes is willpower. The Allies organised their super powered soldiers or Talents into small units and gave them commando training – soldiers first, Talents second, whilst Nazi Germany “recruited” its Übermenschen into the SS and focused on their powers. Lastly, Willpower plays an important role because normally one Talent can spot another using his abilities and if they can see each other, one can contest the other’s use of his power on the strength of his will alone.

The other thing that Godlike introduced was the “ORE” or “One Roll Engine” system, which has since powered games such as Reign, Wild Talents, and Monsters and Other Childish Things. At its heart, the rules are simple. Roll handfuls of ten sided dice and hope to get matches, the result being read with both height and the width. The height being the highest number rolled in the match, the width being the number of matches. Thus if a player rolled seven dice and got a result of one, three, three, three, three, eight, and nine, the result would be four (width) by three (height). In combat, the result would be interpreted as, for example, a shot to the target’s left leg (determined by the height) with a base damage of four (the width) plus whatever damage bonus the weapon provides. In Godlike, two extra dice types are added. The first type is Hard Dice, which are always equal to ten, while Wiggle Dice, the second, can be set at any number. Other ORE games use different dice types, but whatever the game, these dice are more expensive to buy for attributes, skills, and powers.

The point of this lengthy explanation of Godlike and how it works is to give you some background for the review in question, which is of the latest release for the game. Despite the game being nearly a decade old, there are only a few of these, so the release of Operation Rascal is all the more welcome. The fact that Operation Rascal is a scenario is all the more welcome. Coming as a 2.23 MB, thirty-nine page PDF, Operation Rascal takes place during the run up to D-Day in 1944 and details one of those clever stratagems with which the Allies were able to pull the wool over the Axis’ eyes.

Although we know where D-Day landings took place – on and behind the beaches of Normandy – the point is that Germany did not, and that was how the Allies wanted to keep it. To that end, Allied intelligence ran all sorts of intelligence operations to persuade the Germans that they would land anywhere other than in North West France. “Operation Rascal” is one such stratagem. Through the use of Talents, the Allies plan to pull off an operation that would have been very difficult otherwise – to teleport Talent squads deep into northern France where they can attack specific targets, disrupt the activities of the occupying forces, and otherwise draw attention to themselves and their activities and so away from the actual landing sites.

The scenario lays the ground work for an attack on one such target in northern France, describing the location, the forces guarding it, and their response – including Übermenschen – to the attack by the player characters and their Talent squad. In fact, the scenario describes in detail the one night. First, the set up in which numerous Talent squads are assembled, briefed, and prepared; then transportation to France and the getting to the target; and lastly, the actual attack. Each of the steps is gone into in detail, the detail managing to provide the GM with just about everything that he needs to know, but also giving him quite a lot to keep track of. This issue is exacerbated later in the scenario as the GM has to control an increasing number of NPCs. Fortunately, the tactics employed by each group is clearly explained and where necessary, is supported with a round by round breakdown of their actions.

The location in question is a munitions factory. Initially it is lightly defended, no surprise given the number of other Talent squads sowing discord across northern France. This will change though, and this being a scenario for Godlike, the new opposition will involve Übermenschen. Though the player characters will not be facing a complete squad of the Nazi supermen at any one time, they will be dealing with some very nasty customers. It is always interesting to see what someone else comes up with in terms of Übermenschen as the game demands a inventiveness upon the part of the GM to design something more than a series blue-eyed, blonde Aryan clones. Curiously, the author of Operation Rascal has hewn towards that cliché just a little, with perhaps the slight overuse of Talents involving either strength or teleportation. Fortunately, this overuse is leavened with some interesting creations that will present a real challenge to the Allied Talents.

Where Operation Rascal really shines though, is in the opening scenes and in later scenes that present the Talents with a moral dilemma. Its opening scenes not only nicely capture the hurried feel of the mission to a tee, but they also provide the player characters with the opportunity to interact and shine. The nature of Talent abilities in Godlike is that while they will be regularly used in combat, they are not necessarily combat orientated and to get the most out of his powers, whether in combat or not, a player will have to be inventive. If his powers are not combat orientated, then a non-combat scene is exactly one place they can shine. The moral dilemmas come during combat and present the players with some tough choices, ones that are likely to be deleterious to their Talents’ Willpowers. In this the situations make use the rules from the supplement, Will to Power, but the guidelines given are enough for the GM to handle the situation.

Physically, Operation Rascal is well presented with nicely done maps, although a larger area map would have been helpful. It needs a little editing here and there, but the writing is never less than clear and there is advice aplenty for the GM on staging the adventure and how to handle certain Talent types. Lastly, fine use is made of the interactive PDF functions. If there is an issue, it is that the stats for the NPCs could have been more fully written out including their point costs as they are a little too abbreviated in the form given here.

Although it covers just the events of the one night, Operation Rascal should give a couple of good sessions of play, and hard ones at that. It is also open ended, with room for the player Talents to continue sewing discord and dissension behind enemy lines until they can link up with the advancing Allied lines in the weeks following D-Day, or if the GM so desires, room to get them home to prepare for a mission on D-Day itself. Modesty forbids my suggesting that he run my own scenario in such a case. Even if the GM does not run the scenario, it is decent enough for a GM to plunder for ideas and Übermenschen. Overall, Operation Rascal provides solid support for Godlike, a challenge for the GM, and an even bigger challenge for his players and their Talents.