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

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Flashing Swords & Sorcery

There are few if any roleplaying games that do history and nothing more. For a roleplaying game about history to do well, it has to another ingredient. After all, who would play a game set in the 1920s if it did not have the extra ingredient that is H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos? Such ingredients usually take the form of magic, of horror, of superpowers, of advanced technology, or some other fantastic element. The elements added to All For One: Régime Diabolique, the latest RPG from British publisher, Triple Ace Games, are those of magic and horror. As its title suggests, this is an RPG set in the swashbuckling age of romance, adventure, and daring do that is France during the seventeenth century. Inspired by the novels of Alexandre Dumas, it is specifically set in the year, 1636. Cardinal Richelieu all but governs in the name of Louis VIII, sending the French army to fight against the Spanish the Netherlands while funding the Protestant forces against the Catholic armies of the Holy Roman Emperor in Germany. While the Thirty Years War rages, French Protestants are persecuted at home, the King holds extravagant ball after extravagant ball, the peasants are taxed to within a sous of their lives, and the nobility connive for status or pursue dark agendas of their own. Rumours abound of Witchcraft, demon worship, and monsters abroad, but these are simply the idle chatter of the peasantry. Few appear to truly care about the state, and the fate, of France, but M. de Tréville, commander of The King’s Musketeers does. He personally picks each of the members of this elite regiment, selecting many from those who have had encounters with the outré or with Cardinal Richelieu’s agents. This is the set up for All For One: Régime Diabolique, with player characters as members of The King’s Musketeers, earning their keep through various assignments, missions, and ventures.

Despite the period setting, All For One is a game about pulp action. Not with Tommy Guns, cars with running boards, and advanced machinery and sciences, but with rapiers, muskets, galloping horses, razor wit, and a bow and a sweep of the hat. To fit the pulp action, Triple Ace Games has gone with a set of rules other than its normal choice of Savage Worlds. Instead All For One employs the Ubiquity system, first seen in Exile Studio’s Hollow Earth Expedition (an RPG that is thoroughly pulp and Doug McClure action) and then in the RPG of post-apocalyptic fantasy from Greymalkin Design, Desolation. What marks out the Ubiquity system is its relative simplicity. Dice pools are rolled to gain successes, each even result on the dice being counted as a success. What this means is that any dice can be used, and you could even flip coins, to roll for actions. Of course, Exile Studio does its own dice for the Ubiquity system, but it is possible to get by with a handful of ordinary six-sided dice.

Character creation is matter of choosing one of the provided archetypes – eleven ready-to-play characters are given as examples – or creating your own. This involves dividing fifteen points between six attributes, each rated between one and five; assigning another fifteen points to skills; choosing a Talent such as the “Florentine” fencing style or a Resource like the “L’École de Danse” Fencing School or “Skilled Ally;” and a Flaw such as “Glass Jaw” or “Thrill-Seeker.” Another fifteen points are spent to customise the character. A character also needs a Motivation and he also starts the game with a Style Point, Ubiquity’s equivalent of hero or luck points.

Our first sample character is Gaston, a peasant who made his livelihood by hunting. He planned to marry, but Corinne, his betrothed disappeared shortly after he served as a hunting guide for a visiting nobleman. What clues he gained as to her whereabouts led him to the nobleman’s estate, where he heard rumours of strange celebrations. When he sought to gain entrance to the estate he was harried off by guards, but not before he heard a woman screaming. Gaston was sure that it was Corinne. When he returned in daylight, he was horrified to discover her partially buried body. He swore revenge and planned to assassinate the nobleman. In his rage his shot missed and he was forced to flee finding refuge in the army under another an assumed name. Months later he caught sight of the nobleman and as he raised his musket, a hand stopped him. It was M. de Tréville, who having heard of Gaston’s hunt offered him a position in The King’s Musketeers.

Gaston the Gun
Archetype: Hunter Motivation: Revenge
Style: 2 Health: 5
Primary Attributes
Body: 3 Charisma: 2
Dexterity: 3 Intelligence: 2
Strength: 3 Willpower: 2
Secondary Attributes
Size: 0 Initiative: 5
Move: 6 Defense: 6
Perception: 4 Stun: 3
Animal Handling 2/1/3/1+
Brawl 3/2/5/2+
Firearms 3/4/7/3+
Musket 3/5/8/4
Melee 3/2/5/2+
Performance 2/1/3/1+
Ride 3/2/5/2+
Stealth 3/2/5/2+
Survival 2/2/4/2
Hunting 2/3/5/2+
Long Shot
Direction Sense

When it comes to the Ubiquity system, it is all a matter of the number of successes rolled. A task’s Difficulty determines the minimum number of successes that have to be rolled for someone to achieve it. Any successes rolled above that improve the result. The rules also allow a character to “Take the Average,” meaning that if the average number of successes that he would roll is equal to, or greater than a task’s Difficulty, then the player does not have to roll. In addition, every player character has Style Points, which are spent to add bonus dice, boost the level of some Talents, and reduce damage. They are gained for pursuing a character’s Motivation and playing to his Flaw, for being heroic and being in character, as well as for out of game actions, such as writing gaming reports, hosting the game, and so on.

Of course, the major addition to the setting of France of All For One is magic. Virtually everyone believes in magic, regarding it as either witchcraft or devilry, if not both. More knowledgeable men know that magic is not bound by those dark traditions, but many, and some of them actually benign in nature. Even so, practitioners of all magic have to be careful lest they raise the suspicions of the populace and bring the wrath of the Inquisition down upon their heads. In game terms, magicians have to take the “Magical Aptitude” Talent during character generation, choosing a Tradition from among Ceremonial Magic, Natural Magic, and Theurgy. The choice of Tradition provides no actual benefit, but rather colours how his magic works. In addition, each magical practitioner studies one or more Arts, like Divination or Necromancy. The game has no set spell lists and a player is expected to come up the desired effects during play. It is possible to combine the effects of one art with another. For example, he might combine Homomancy with Hydromancy to enable himself to breath under water. The game though, does give a fourth Tradition, that of Alchemy, which although in that it can replicate many of the effects of the other Traditions, is bound by the Laws of Nature. Thus an Alchemist could concoct a mixture that would cause one of the living to walk as if dead, but could not create a powder that would raise the dead.

Our sample magician, Michel Durand serves in the King’s Musketeers to make up for his past sins. An orphan, he was brought up to be a studious boy, including the study of magick. He will not speak of how he came to be recruited by M. de Tréville.

Michel Durand
Archetype: Occultist Motivation: Justice
Style: 2 Health: 5
Primary Attributes
Body: 2 Charisma: 2
Dexterity: 2 Intelligence: 4
Strength: 2 Willpower: 3
Secondary Attributes
Size: 0 Initiative: 6
Move: 4 Defense: 4
Perception: 7 Stun: 2
Academics (Philosophy) 4/4/8/4+
Firearms 1/2/3/1+
Investigation 2/4/6/3+
Magick (Benignus) 2/4/6/3+
Magick (Divination) 4/4/8/4+
Magick (Necromancy) 2/4/6/3+
Melee 1/2/3/1+
Natural Philosophy (Chymistry) 2/4/6/3+
Ride 1/2/3/1+
Magical Aptitude (Ceremonial Magic)
Magical Sensitivity

At heart, the magic rules in All For One, are very simple. Yet they do call for a certain inventiveness upon the part of the players, almost to create a spell’s desired effect upon the fly. Pleasingly, the chapter on magic includes eight examples, each fully worked that show the system’s cleverness.

In terms of background particular to All For One, various types of adventures are discussed as are various personages and organisations, villainous and otherwise. They include the classic villains of both history and of Alexandre Dumas’ novels, such as Cardinal Richelieu and Milady de Winter. It is possible for player characters to belong to the Rosicrucians and other organisations, but most are included as potential opposition for the characters. The book also includes some classic monsters, such as the Vampire and the Werewolf, along with various mundane NPCs. These are enough to be going with, but the likelihood is that a GM will be wanting for more.

One thing that is missing is a specific fear mechanic of the type usually found in horror games. This is due to dangerous or fearful situations being covered by rolls based on the Willpower attribute, and to add to that some creatures do possess the equivalent of the Fearsome Talent. It should also be pointed that All For One is not a straight horror game. It is rather a game of pulp action with horror elements.

Physically, All For One is neatly laid out with flavoursome artwork and is for the most part an easy read. The choice of fount for the section headers is sometimes a little hard on the eyes which is it is mostly an easy read. It is a pity though that the book could not have been in colour as that would have benefited both the artwork and the map of Paris inside the back cover. If the map of Paris is good, it is a pity that the inside of the front cover has been left fallow when a map of France and its nearest neighbours would have been as equally as useful. Similarly, the book is devoid of a scenario, although not of scenario ideas. It would have been nice to have seen an All For One scenario to get a grasp of how the game works. Similarly, the lack of examples of both character generation and actual play are frustrating, though the book is full situational examples.

Over all, All For One: Régime Diabolique is a solid package. There is everything here that a GM can use to get to work with to create his game, and it should be pointed out that the book does not have any specific advice for the GM beyond talking about the nature of an All For One adventure. If anything the lack of an adventure is the book’s most disappointing feature, though they are available for purchase from the publisher’s website. Put that aside though and All For One: Régime Diabolique is an engaging setting that most gamers will be familiar with and want to play in.